The Magazine

What's Gone Right

Not all the news from Iraq is bad.

Jul 7, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 42 • By JOSH CHAFETZ
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NOT EVEN the most determined Pollyanna would claim that the reconstruction of Iraq has gone smoothly. Although many early reports of trouble were exaggerated (see Baghdad Museum, looting of), instances of civil unrest continue, including protests and even a few riots. Neither weapons of mass destruction nor Saddam and his sons have been found. Islamism seems to be gaining ground in some areas. Remnants and supporters of the Baathist regime continue to sabotage infrastructure and attack American and British soldiers. Twenty-two American troops have been killed in attacks since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. Indeed, every day seems to bring front-page news of something going wrong in Iraq.

But that isn't the whole story. In the first opinion poll of liberated Iraq, Dr. Sadoun Dulaimi of the Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies found that 65 percent of Baghdadis want U.S. troops to stay for now; only 17 percent want them to pull out immediately. Clearly the United States is doing something right. In fact, if you read past the front pages, you find many signs of improvement in the four major areas of reconstruction: providing security, improving public utilities, rebuilding civil society and laying the groundwork for democracy, and getting the economy moving.

First, security. Coalition forces have brought in at least 32 of the coalition's 55 most wanted Iraqis. This includes the June 16 capture of Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, the most wanted man in Iraq after Saddam and his two sons. Coalition forces have also launched countrywide sweeps, seizing weapons and capturing hundreds of lower-level Baath loyalists.

Equally important, the United States is training Iraqis to take over policing and security. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted in his June 18 press briefing that thousands of Iraqi police officers are back at work. And on June 23, U.S. administrators announced the creation of a national army. The Iraqi army--expected to have 12,000 troops within a year and 40,000 within three years--will be "professional, nonpolitical, militarily effective, and truly representative of the country," according to Walter Slocombe, head of security and defense for the Coalition Provisional Authority. The coalition has also announced that dismissed soldiers will receive a stipend, a move designed to neutralize ex-military resentment of coalition authorities. And Jordan's King Abdullah has indicated a willingness to provide police officers to train and conduct joint patrols with Iraqi police.

Moreover, some security problems that had been previously reported never, in fact, materialized. Despite reports that several tons of uranium had gone missing from the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility southeast of Baghdad, the International Atomic Energy Agency recently announced that nearly all of Tuwaitha's uranium was accounted for.

Second, Iraq's public utilities and hospitals are performing relatively well and, in some cases, improving. Critics must remember that utilities were in a decrepit state long before the war. Maj. David Hylton, the Army's principal officer for civilian affairs, recently told World magazine, "What we're realizing is that Iraq doesn't produce enough power for Baghdad. Saddam used to forcibly black out other cities to keep the lights on here." Because the provisional authority has not continued this practice, Baghdad has less power than it did before the war. But Basra--Iraq's second-largest city--now has power 24 hours a day for the first time since 1991. Indeed, Rumsfeld recently pointed out that cities throughout the northern and southern regions now have better electrical service than they've had in over a decade. And even Baghdad, as Thomas Friedman noted in his June 18 column, is getting about 18 hours of electricity per day.

There is no functioning phone system in Iraq, but elsewhere there are improvements afoot. Long lines for gasoline, ubiquitous a month ago, have disappeared, and garbage is, once again, being collected. The water supply is more uneven: Rumsfeld announced that it is operating at about 80 percent of prewar level, but some areas--including Basra--have "more and better water, cleaner water, than existed prior to the conflict." Upon returning from a tour of western and northern Iraq, Mark Steyn reported in The Spectator that "everywhere I went I drank the water and, aside from mild side-effects like feeling even more right-wing than before, I'm fine and dandy."