Web Exclusive 7/26/03
The good news coming from Iraq
By Michael Barone
In the audience when Dick Cheney spoke Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute was Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress and one of the 25 members of the Iraqi National Governing Council appointed earlier this month by administrator L. Paul Bremer. Chalabi did not speak to Cheney, who entered and left the stage without speaking privately to anyone, but Chalabi did exchange warm greetings with Defense Department official Harold Rhode and with Judith Miller of the New York Times and other reporters.
Talking to Chalabi afterward, I got a far more optimistic picture of Iraq than has been painted in most of the press. The north and the south are calm; opposition to the United States in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle to the north is limited. There are no clashes between Shiite and Sunni Muslims or between Kurds and other Iraqis. Meetings of the organizing council have been harmonious and productive. Much of the negative press, Chalabi argues, is due to translators who have their own anti-American agendas and give American and other reporters their version of what is going on rather than what the Iraqis being interviewed are saying.
Looking ahead, Chalabi described his proposal for the convening of a convention to write a new Iraqi constitution. Provisional councils of 200 members would be appointed by the Governing Council in each small area of Iraq. Their members would include representatives of leading families, tribes, and ethnic and religious groups. These provisional councils would elect one delegate to a constitutional convention for each 100,000 Iraqisabout 250 in all. That convention would proceed to write a constitution to be submitted to a vote of the people. It is too early, Chalabi argues, to allow elections to select the members of the constitutional convention; as others have pointed out, the best-organized forces in IraqBaathist remnants and pro-Iranian groupsare hostile to democratic institutions and the rule of law.
Chalabi says that Bremer supports his proposal but that British representatives do not. Chalabi's American aide, Francis Brooke, predicts that the Governing Council will adopt a proposal much like Chalabi's. Chalabi foresees the provisional councils' being chosen this summer and the constitutional convention at work in the fall. If so, this will be amazingly rapid progress toward creation of a democratic, rule-of-law Iraq-much faster than the progress that was made in Germany and Japan after World War II.
One wonders whether the American and world press will be able to ignore most of this progress as it has been ignoring the other progress made since April in Iraq. Stories have focused on the killing of American soldiers, apparently by Baathist elements. But this should not be surprising: the pro-Hitler Werewolves underground shot and killed many American soldiers for months after the surrender of Germany in 1945. News media obsessed with the reliability of intelligence about Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium in Africa have tended to gloss over or ignore the progress set out by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in his July 24 press briefing. It is worth setting out:
- The formation of an Iraqi national army has begun.
- 30,000 Iraqi police have been hired.
- An Iraqi civil defense corps is being formed.
- Coalition forces have captured or killed 38 of Iraq's 55 most wanted.
- Thousands of lower-level Baath Party loyalists have been rounded up or otherwise dealt with.
- The Iraqi Central Bank has been made independent.
- Iraq has returned to the world oil market. All of Iraq's universities have reopened.
- Power and water are, in most places, at prewar levels, and we're making progress in Baghdad.
- The food redistribution system has been restarted.
- Nearly all of Iraq's 240 hospitals and 1,200 clinics are open.
- Over 100 newspapers have begun publishing.
- In all major cities and in 85 percent of the towns, municipal councils have been formed of Iraqis.
- Ambassador Bremer has helped establish a new National Governing Council. It has begun exercising executive authority, appointing ministers, preparing the way for a new national constitution.
All this is tremendously encouraging. Many of these things might have happened earlier had planning not been conducted on two tracks, by the State Department and the Defense Department, until George W. Bush ordered January 20 that Defense would be in charge. State planners had envisioned a very different process, one which would not have put Iraq on the track toward democracy and the rule of law. Fortunately, Defense has been able to do that, with critical help from Chalabi and other Iraqis who share those goals. The press coverage and the criticisms of many Democrats seem based on an assumption that Iraq is somehow a rerun of Vietnam. But the facts on the ground in Iraq should not be squeezed into the Vietnam template. Progress is being made in establishing the first rule-of-law democracy in an Arab countryan example with the potential of changing the whole region for the better. You may have to search hard for it in most American news media, but there is good news coming from Iraq.