BAGHDAD, Iraq (BP)–Media coverage of Iraq has grown largely negative, and some American leaders are saying the decision to go to war was wrong and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Footage of increased insurgent attacks and videotaped beheadings of hostages mostly depict a losing effort, but there is another side to the story that is far less publicized.
While addressing a joint session of Congress Sept. 23, Iraqi interim prime minister Ayad Allawi said simply, “Thank you, America.”
“We Iraqis know that Americans have made and continue to make enormous sacrifices to liberate Iraq, to assure Iraq’s freedom,” Allawi said. “I have come here to thank you and to promise you that your sacrifices are not in vain.”
The prime minister assured Americans that Iraq is well on its way to liberty and democracy and will go ahead with elections in January as scheduled despite terrorist acts. Elections could be held “tomorrow” in 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, he said.
Of great interest to evangelicals, under the newly adopted Transitional Administrative Law, Iraq’s Bill of Rights is even more inclusive than the United States. The TAL guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms to all Iraqis, including freedom of religious belief and practice, the right to free expression, the right to peacefully assemble, the right to organize political parties, and the right to form and join unions.
Though no comprehensive national tracking is available, reports indicate many Iraqis are taking advantage of religious freedom throughout the country. One example is the National Evangelical Baptist Church in Baghdad, which was established nine months ago and averages more than 200 people in weekly attendance. People are accepting Christ and being baptized there each week, and organizers plan to start a second church soon.
A brief look at this and other accomplishments in Iraq during the past 17 months yields more progress than regularly fills the headlines of most news organizations. Among the good happening as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the subsequent occupation by coalition forces:
Under Hussein’s regime, there was no established maintenance program for school buildings, leaving about 12,000 schools in need of repair. So far, the coalition has repaired more than 2,500 of those facilities, and another 870 schools are under rehabilitation.
More than 32,000 secondary school teachers and 3,000 supervisors have been trained in effective classroom management and curriculum delivery. Teachers paid under Hussein’s rule received an average of $5 to $66 per month. That average has now risen to $120. The United States Agency for International Development edited the heavily propagandized Iraqi schoolbooks and has printed and distributed nearly 9 million new textbooks for use in Iraqi schools.
Under the new administration, Iraqi universities employ a non-discriminatory admissions process, which no longer selects students on the basis of gender, ethnicity or party affiliation. College applicants in Iraq have doubled in the past year, according to the U.S. State Department.
At least five Iraqi universities are now partners with American universities to improve research and administrative capabilities.
In 2002, the Hussein regime allotted $16 million for its Ministry of Health, which amounted to spending $1 per person on health care. The 2004 health care budget is $948 million, an increase of $40 per person.
All 240 hospitals and at least 95 percent of Iraq’s clinics have reopened. Neglected health care facilities are undergoing reconstruction, and at least 850 health projects have received funding. Distribution of medicines has reached more than 12,000 tons, and more than 22 million vaccinations have been administered.
The Hussein regime had isolated Iraqis from international medical training and technology for more than 35 years, barring them from the advances of modern medicine. Now Iraqis are being introduced to new drug treatments, such as top-tier cancer drugs and more progressive pharmaceuticals. Iraqi pharmacists and doctors are receiving training from coalition nations.
While the Hussein regime administered two weak currencies, the coalition introduced one currency for all Iraqis — the new Iraqi dinar — in October 2003, and the currency exchange was marked as the fastest exchange in history. Banknotes bearing Hussein’s image were made obsolete in January, while the currency exchange in Germany after WWII took three years.
Oil production is now exceeding pre-war levels, averaging more than 500,000 more barrels per day. Oil exports generated $1.8 billion more in revenue between October 2003 and January than originally anticipated.
The Iraqi infrastructure is getting back on track as Baghdad International Airport now has about 45 civilian aircraft departures each day, including regular commercial service to Jordan. A new first responder network linking security, fire, rescue, border enforcement, the armed forces and the Civil Defense Corps is up and working, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Marking a 32 percent increase from pre-war times, the total number of telephone subscribers in Iraq is now more than 1 million. While the general public was not permitted to use cell phones under Hussein, more than 500,000 Iraqis now have cell phones. International calling service has also been restored so that Iraqis may communicate with the rest of the world.
Generation of electricity has exceeded pre-war levels, with electricity production reaching 6,000 megawatts in September, according to a USA Today report. The pre-war level was 4,400 megawatts, and engineers estimate that with the increased availability of air conditioners, refrigerators, televisions and washing machines, demand is closer to 7,000 megawatts.
Extensive renovations of water treatment plants have provided cleaner water to more than 15 million people on a more reliable basis.
More than 77,000 jobs have been created under the National Employment Program, an initiative established by the Coalition Provisional Authority with a goal of creating 100,000 new public work jobs, according to USAID.
The Transitional Administrative Law guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms to all Iraqis, including freedom of religious belief and practice, the right to free expression, the right to peacefully assemble, the right to organize political parties, and the right to form and join unions. Many Iraqis are taking advantage of religious freedom throughout the country and are worshiping together in public places like never before.
The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom said in its report about Iraq issued in May 2004, “The Commission considers that the success so far in institutionalizing the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Iraq is an expression of the high priority that U.S. policymakers assigned to the issue as it engaged with the Iraqi Governing Council on the preparation of the TAL. Substantial work remains to establish conditions in Iraq whereby human rights guarantees can be put into practice by functioning government institutions operating for the benefit of all Iraqis. The United States has a major role to play in this regard.”
Iraq’s court system is now a fully functioning and independent judicial system with more than 600 judges in courtrooms across the nation. Unlike under Hussein, those charged with crimes now have the right to a fair, expeditious and open trial, the right to defense counsel at all stages of criminal proceedings, and the right to be notified of their rights at the time of arrest including the right to remain silent.
Before the war, the Ministry of Information controlled five daily newspapers, the Iraqi news agency, radio and television. No newspaper in Iraq could be published without the permission of the Ministry of Information. Now, more than 120 newspapers freely circulate within the country.
Iraqis now are free to use the Internet as a source of information, and Internet cafes are booming. Also, satellite TV dishes are legal sources of information, and more than 35 percent of Iraqi households now have them, according to the State Department.
Forty-six of the 55 most wanted figures from Hussein’s regime have been captured or killed, including Hussein and his two sons. Nearly 100,000 fully trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel are at work in Iraq today, President Bush reported during a speech at the White House Sept. 23. The number is expected to increase to 125,000 by the end of this year and to more than 200,000 by the end of next year.
On June 28, full sovereignty was transferred from the Coalition Provisional Authority to an interim government of Iraqi citizens, including Prime Minister Allawi. Nationwide elections are scheduled for January 2005, and an independent election commission has been formed to oversee the process. The election will allow the Iraqi people to choose a transitional national assembly, the first freely elected, truly representative national governing body in Iraq’s history. The assembly will draft a new constitution, and under the constitution Iraq will elect a permanent government by the end of next year.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the effort in Iraq has definitely been worth it, and the world is a safer place with Saddam Hussein out of power.
“He is a major war criminal, guilty of massive crimes against humanity, and hopefully will be tried, found guilty and executed,” Land said in a statement to Baptist Press. “Our effort in Iraq means no more mass graves, no more threat of weapons of mass destruction being used as weapons of terror. It is one less safe haven for terrorists.
“We have tremendous movement toward elected self-government in Iraq. Radicals and terrorists know if Iraq continues in this direction, all hope of power has been lost, and that’s why they’re fighting like cornered rats out of desperation,” Land said.