Monday, July 18, 2005
The drafting of the constitution seems to be proceeding "on track," even if it continues to suffer from ethnic politics. Sunnis are engaging more, which suggests they are hedging the risk that the Americans will withdraw and leave them at the mercy of the Shia and the Kurds.
The reading of books for pleasure and understanding is making a comeback, after 30 years of darkness.
In a narrow alley off Mutanabi Street, Baghdad's main book market, the Dar al-Bayan bookshop is full of dust and classics. Old men sip tea in the back and talk of times past, before dictatorship, when poets and intellectuals made life here bright.
On the street outside, the new Iraq presses in. Card tables covered with computer manuals, cell phone booklets and how-to guides compete for space on the sidewalk. A vast array of religious books, banned under Saddam Hussein, pack the stalls.
As Iraqis struggle to make sense of the chaos and violence that has consumed their lives over the past two years, books offer some solace.
I'm not at all sure that this is "good news." But this definitely is.
People forget that, in addition to "rebuilding" Iraq's economy and civil society from the ravages of war, the economy has to transform from massivism statism to private ownership and free internal markets. Saddam, after all, was a commie in Arab clothing. The good news is that old state industries are privatizing. One hopes that there won't be too much corruption in the handling of it. Perhaps even more importantly, Iraq has its first credit card! One is almost forced to wonder whether it is compatible with Islamic laws against usury.
Coca-Cola is returning to Iraq after 25 years! Does it get any better than that? I submit that it cannot!
Chrenkoff has a lot of links about apparent progress in the energy sector, but none address the crucial question, can the country increase production in the face of sabotage by the insurgency? And then there is the subsidiary question, can the country deploy the oil wealth it does receive without dissipating a huge percentage to corruption?
Domestic air travel is recovering. This strikes me as a very good sign, and critical for both the integration of the economy and the political society.
The Japanese are rebuilding roads. Good. Japanese engagement is good, and more is better.
Salaries for Iraqi professors are going up. Notwithstanding the brain drain and terrorism, Iraq apparently has the highest percentage of people with advanced degrees in the Middle East.
The Iraqi marshes are coming back strongly. N.B.: The removal of Saddam has made possible the reparation of one of the great environmental atrocities of the last decade of the 20th century.
Chrenkoff has lots of links to stories about the good works of Coalition soldiers. My favorite bit:
As local apricot farmer Hamid says: "I thank you for everything... My dream is to one day visit your country and repay you for all of your kindness, God willing."
Does anybody know how to buy Iraqi apricots?
And read this story about "Noah's Shoes," a project to put shoes on the feet of Iraqi children who need them.
There is growing evidence that the tide has turned in the propaganda war vs. the insurgents.
The Iraqi army has taken control of security over the "Green Zone." Chrenkoff has lots more on the training of the Iraqi military and police, including contributions from the United States Navy.
There is quiet aid from unlikely sources. The United Arab Emirates is buying 180 surplus armored personnel carriers from the Swiss, and donating them to the Iraqi army.
Chrenkoff has lots of stories about ordinary Iraqi civilians calling in tips to help the counterinsurgency or identify roadside bombs. The willingness of Iraqi civilians to cooperate reinforces the idea that this insurgency is not beloved, or even feared, by the great mass of the population.
Finally, Chrenkoff finishes with a huge pile of links to recent tactical victories, including arrests of jihadis and the discovery of weapons caches. Each link is individually interesting and points to progress, but the sheer quantity of them creates the overall impression that this war will be fought for some time. How many weapons caches are there? A lot, apparently.
Why is it that we can still have troops in Europe 60 years after the war but we have to get out of Dodge ASAP?
Considering the amount of time Saddam had to tear things down, we ought to stay that long to get the engine of commerce up and working again.
Was it you or Michael Yon that had the great tale of getting medical texts delivered to Iraq? Great story that needs wider distribution.
A quick look at an influential Arab media outlet:
Perhaps the best known in the West -- and the most controversial -- the satellite television network is headquartered in Qatar and funded by its government. It has been referred to as the CNN of the Arab world.
The network was founded in 1996 and was the idea of the emir - the absolute monarch of the tiny kingdom. He wanted to modernize his country and al-Jazeera was part of the plan. Its equipment and most of its journalists came from the BBC after it closed down its Arabic-language division. To get them to sign up, the emir had to make one simple promise: no government censorship.
Al-Jazeera was thrown out of Bahrain for covering anti-American demonstrations. Jordan gave it the boot for revealing that King Hussein, who died in 1999, had taken money from the CIA. Saudi Arabia not only kicked out al-Jazeera for doing critical stories on the royal family, it banned Saudi companies from advertising on the network.
"It's not just news coverage," says Rick MacInnes-Rae, host of CBC Radio's foreign affairs program Dispatches. "In fact, the public opinion shows are far more unusual and controversial, public opinion not being something encouraged in the Middle East. There is The Opposite Direction, the single most popular and controversial talk show in the Middle East today. It's something akin to CNN's Crossfire."
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