Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Good news from Iraq - bet you didn't know there was any? 

(Update: A very warm thank you to Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds for their support and publicity (and by the looks of it, many many others))

(Update II: You can now find the second installment of "Good news from Iraq" here)

Prisoner abuse, Shia uprising, prisoner abuse, Fallujah, prisoner abuse, lost heart and minds, prisoner abuse... Oh, did I mention prisoner abuse?

The news from Iraq has been consistently bad for two month now, with one "quagmire" after another cheering up the media, the left and the "Arab street", and depressing the hell out of most conservatives.

So, for a change, here's some good news from Iraq that you might have missed (I don't know how that could have happened):

DEMOCRACY TAKES ROOT: Democracy is spreading - from the ground up, as it should: "In the province of Dhi Qar, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad and a backwater even by Iraq's standards, residents voting as families will have elected city councils in 16 of the 20 biggest cities by next month."

And in Baghdad, "American authorities created nine district councils... with representatives sent by 88 neighborhood advisory councils. The district councils, in turn, sent representatives to the Baghdad City Advisory Council to work with the American administration." "Every day the evidence is a little stronger that the council members understand the benefits of this system, and we even see signs out in the community of it catching on."

Meanwhile, a Western PR firm, with Arab partners, tackles the world's toughest ad campaign - selling democracy to Iraqis accustomed to life under a dictatorship.

HEALTHIER, WEALTHIER AND WISER: "[M]y salary was about 17 US$ before the war. Shortly after the war it was raised to 120 US$. Three months after that, they made it 150 US$. Two months later it became 200$... [and] from the next month... [it] will be around 300 US$" - read the whole extensive piece on salaries, unemployment, and the standard of living. It makes a fascinating living.

And there's also good news for retired government employees, who are finally getting decent pensions. And the 80,000 needy families, who are being taken care of by the Iraqi Minister of Labour and Public Affairs (with 300,000 more by the year's end). According to the Minister, Sami Azara Al Majoon: "We have rehabilitated the orphanages, the centres for the handicapped and special needs institutions in Iraq, as well as the institutions for the deaf and blind. Work is on to accommodate all the homeless and orphaned children and ensure the needs of the handicapped. In addition, we have opened 28 offices for the ministry in different parts of the country to accept applications of Iraqi citizens in search of employment and job training."

Meanwhile, on the education front, "more than five million Iraqi students are back in school and more than 51 million new Ba'ath-free textbooks are in circulation." And Iraqi universities are experiencing a brain drain in reverse, as many of the thousands of academics forced into exile under Saddam are coming back to teach the next generation of students.

And in health, "some 100,000 healthcare professionals working in 240 re-opened hospitals and 1,200 clinics." The health system has to be rebuilt almost from scratch: "[it] was 'already badly run down' due to previous wars, sanctions, drastically reduced spending - some estimates suggest the Iraqi health budget was cut by 90 per cent during the 1990s - as well as an inequitable health treatment policy."

SPIRITS REVIVE: "In a stunning upset victory, the Iraq national football team defeated Saudi Arabia tonight 3 to 1 to earn a trip to the 2004 Olympic Summer games in Athens." It's the first time in Iraq's history that Iraqi football team will compete in the Olympics. Better still, the soccer stadium in Baghdad won't be used by Saddam anymore as an outdoor torture chamber, and Iraqi soccer player know that if they fail in the future they won't be tortured by Uday Hussein.

Other areas of life previously suppressed are experiencing cultural revival - like traditional Kurdish music. "Before, Arab music was the most popular, but now even the latest albums aren't selling... Many more people are buying Kurdish music," says Niyaz Zangana, who runs the popular Zang record store in Arbil.

Not just Kurds, but also Marsh Arabs, whose homeland was destroyed by Saddam as collective punishment for rebellion, are reviving. With the marshes being reflooded and ecosystem restored, the ancient culture is returning to the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

THE RECONSTRUCTION: "Iraqi crude oil sales since last year's U.S.-led invasion hit more than $9 billion... The Coalition Provisional Authority had deposited a total of $9.28 billion in its Development Fund for Iraq."

"Some 20,000 contractors are doing business in the country with relatively few security problems... Most are sharing in the $18.4 billion that has been allocated by the U.S. government to rebuild roads, public utilities, schools, housing and other parts of the Iraq economy."

John Roberts, a contracting officer with the Army Corps of Engineers, says: "Saddam Hussein used power as a reward and punishment... Power's important to us (Americans) because we see power as relating to the people." While the Army Corps of Engineers has been mostly restoring oil infrastructure, it is also "creating and improving ports, airports, roads, bridges, schools and health clinics. The corps has replaced more than 700 electrical towers throughout Iraq, Roberts said. The goal is to restore 6,000 megawatts to the national grid by June 1. About 4,500 megawatts are currently on the national grid."

In fact, overall "about 2,200 different [reconstruction] projects worth around US$2.5 billion were under way, with 18,000 already completed. Targets had been met with oil production, which was back to 2.3 million barrels a day, clean drinking water and power."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomes the establishment of an American Chamber of Commerce in Iraq -- "AmCham for short."

And while the big guys work on the big stuff, a lot of private charity work is going on under the radar, be it donations of toys for Iraqi children, helping with supplies and equipment for Iraqi schools, or this latest appeal: "In response to a request from the U.S. 1st Marine Division, Spirit of America donated 10,000 school supply kits, 3 tons of medical supplies and 2 tons of Frisbees printed with 'Friendship' in English and Arabic. These items will be given to Iraqis by the Marines as gifts of friendship from the American people."

THE SECURITY SITUATION: Fallujah is revolting and al-Sadr is stirring trouble in the Shia south, but the Kurd-controlled areas are going so well that you never hear anything about them: "American soldiers based here don't have to call in air strikes against foreign fighters or exchange gunfire with Baathist loyalists. Nor do they live in mortal fear of deadly IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, along the roadsides. In fact, says one soldier who travels in this area, 'I always see the thumbs up, and little kids offer us candies'."

Speaking of Fallujah, the US-appointed retired major-general, Mohammed Abdul-Latif, seems to be having a calming effect on the locals: "We can make [the US] use their rifles against us or we can make them build our country, it's your choice," he has told "a gathering of more than 40 sheikhs, city council members and imams in an eastern Fallujah suburb... As he spoke, many sheikhs nodded in approval and listened with reverence. Later, they clasped his hands and patted him on the back."

Elsewhere, "Accused of being collaborators with American occupation forces, Iraqi policemen, guards, and soldiers have endured ridicule, threats, and targeted violence that have left hundreds dead over the past year. But there are signs that hard-nosed attitudes toward the country's embattled, US-trained security forces are beginning to soften."

THE REAL PRISONER ABUSE: The story of nine Iraqis sent to Abu Ghraib prison on flimsy charges, tortured, mutilated and filmed for amusement. By Saddam Hussein. The nine men in question had their hands chopped off; now Americans are giving them new ones.

THE MIDDLE EASTERN DOMINOES: "We went to the Arab countries and said, 'Look, you need to come together with a blueprint for Arab reform. If you do not articulate such a blueprint, one may be forced upon you.' We in Jordan are in the clear: We have our plans and are not using regional problems as an excuse. We are moving forward, as are some of the other moderate countries. But the rest of you, 'Wake up!' The Middle East is changing. If you don't get that process going, one will be forced on you." - King Abdullah of Jordan in an interview with "Washington Post".

Had enough? Now back to prisoner abuse, al-Sadr, terrorism, prisoner abuse...


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?