Monday, September 25, 2006

Progress in Iraq

There are some good things happening in Iraq, though this is hard to learn just by reading the newspaper or watching television. Here's Nima Sanandaji writing of Iraqinomics and Iraq's economic growth since Saddam was removed from power.
Can Middle Eastern states put oil resources to better use? Is it possible for free enterprise to thrive in the Arab world? The experience in Iraq suggests that the answer to these questions might be yes. The democratically of Iraq has meant that both foreign and domestic businesses can operate in a freer economic environment. Although media seldom report about this, the Iraqi economy is rapidly growing. According to the report "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq October 2005," GDP per capita has more than doubled between 2003 and 2005. Compared to pre-war levels the increase was 31 percent. And the future looks bright. According to the Brookings Institution Iraq Index the Iraqi economy is expected to have a real GDP growth of 49 percent in the period 2006-2008. The oil sector has still not recovered to pre-war levels, partially due to the terrorist menace. Still, if Iraq continues on a path to democracy and economic progress, it is a fair assumption that its natural resources will be put to better use. Foreign investors and consumers would most likely appreciate the possibility to buy oil from a country that does not support terrorists or fundamentalist schools abroad.
A good rule of thumb to apply to news stories about Iraq is if it didn't mention the progress of Iraq's security forces, one must be skeptical about the story's conclusions. The US can't win the war on terror all by itself. It needs allies in the Arab-Muslim world. So, the progress we have not read about regarding Iraq's security forces is worth paying attention to. Here's Bill Crawford from National Review Online with his periodic review of good news in Iraq
Iraqi security forces now number more than 300,000, and almost 70 percent of Iraqi battalions have the lead for security in their area of control:

Six Iraqi army division headquarters, 26 brigade headquarters and 88 battalions have the lead in their own areas - almost 70 percent of the Iraqi Army, and an increase of five division headquarters, 22 brigade headquarters and 65 battalions since November 2005.

The goal is for Iraqis to have the lead in all areas by the end of 2006.
But the bottom line question is often, "Do Islam and Democracy really mix? Are the US and its allies trying to do the impossible in Iraq?" In his column Bring Them Freedom, Or They Destroy Us Bernard Lewis explains why the idea of a Arab-Muslim majority nation being democratic isn't far fetched at all.
In thinking about these two views, it is helpful to step back and consider what Arab and Islamic society was like once and how it has been transformed in the modern age. The idea that how that society is now is how it has always been is totally false. The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq or the Assad family in Syria or the more friendly dictatorship of Mubarak in Egypt--all of these have no roots whatsoever in the Arab or in the Islamic past. Let me quote to you from a letter written in 1786--three years before the French Revolution--by Mssr. Count de Choiseul-Gouffier, the French ambassador in Istanbul, in which he is trying to explain why he is making rather slow progress with the tasks entrusted to him by his government in dealing with the Ottoman government. "Here," he says, "things are not as in France where the king is sole master and does as he pleases." "Here," he says, "the sultan has to consult." He has to consult with the former holders of high offices, with the leaders of various groups and so on. And this is a slow process. This scenario is something radically different than the common image of Middle Eastern government today. And it is a description that ceased to be true because of a number of changes that occurred.

In the year 1940, the government of France surrendered to the Axis and formed a collaborationist government in a place called Vichy. The French colonial empire was, for the most part, beyond the reach of the Nazis, which meant that the governors of the French colonies had a free choice: To stay with Vichy or to join Charles de Gaulle, who had set up a Free French Committee in London. The overwhelming majority chose Vichy, which meant that Syria-Lebanon--a French-mandated territory in the heart of the Arab East--was now wide open to the Nazis. The governor and his high officials in the administration in Syria-Lebanon took their orders from Vichy, which in turn took orders from Berlin. The Nazis moved in, made a tremendous propaganda effort, and were even able to move from Syria eastwards into Iraq and for a while set up a pro-Nazi, fascist regime. It was in this period that political parties were formed that were the nucleus of what later became the Baath Party. The Western Allies eventually drove the Nazis out of the Middle East and suppressed these organizations. But the war ended in 1945, and the Allies left. A few years later the Soviets moved in, established an immensely powerful presence in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and various other countries, and introduced Soviet-style political practice. The adaptation from the Nazi model to the communist model was very simple and easy, requiring only a few minor adjustments, and it proceeded pretty well. That is the origin of the Baath Party and of the kind of governments that we have been confronting in the Middle East in recent years. That, as I would again repeat and emphasize, has nothing whatever to do with the traditional Arab or Islamic past.
Here's an excerpt of a Washington Post interview with
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani
So, while many here in the U.S. believe the war is a mess, you believe the opposite.

Iraq is not in chaos. There are many provinces that are calm -- where people live in prosperity. . . . I want to assure the American people that Iraqis are now enjoying democracy and human rights and are struggling to secure the country.

Would you welcome U.S. bases in Kurdistan?

Yes, they are welcome. Kurdistan wants the Americans to stay. In some places Sunnis want the Americans to stay -- Sunnis think the main danger is coming from Iran now. There is a change in the mind of the Sunnis. The Sunnis are for having good relations with America. The [Shiites] have started to think that.

Will the U.S. put bases in Kurdistan?

I think we will be in need of American forces for a long time -- even two military bases to prevent foreign interference. I don't ask to have 100,000 American soldiers -- 10,000 soldiers and two air bases would be enough. This will be [in] the interest of the Iraqi people and of peace in the Middle East.
Should we take up Talabani on that offer?