The American press is seemingly against reporting positive Iraq news so it is refreshing to see some new reporting out of the country from the German magazine Der Spiegel which notes the "astonishing" pace of things there:
There is an unexpected air of normalcy prevailing in Baghdad these days, with consumption flourishing and confidence in the government growing. The progress is astonishing, but can it last?
Pork is available in Baghdad once again. Not just in the Green Zone, where US diplomats can enjoy their spare ribs and Parma ham, but also across the Tigris River, in the real Baghdad, at "Al-Warda" on Karada Street. Bassim Dencha, 32, one of the few Christians remaining in Iraq and the co-owner of Baghdad's finest supermarket, has developed a supply line from Syria. As a result, he now has frozen pork chops and bratwurst arranged in his freezers, next to boxes of frozen French fries and German Black Forest Cakes. And the customers are buying.
For four years, selling pork or alcohol in Baghdad was a security risk. But the acts of terror committed by Islamist fundamentalists, who once punished such violations of their interpretation of the Koran with attacks on businesses and their owners, have gradually subsided. The supply of imported goods is also relatively secure today, now that roads through the Sunni Triangle are significantly safer than they were only a few months ago.
There are some caveats of course, since Iraq is still a war zone:
Despite the palpable changes in daily life in the Iraqi capital, people are still being killed, because the Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists are not willing to give in, nor have they been eliminated completely. Eleven people died in attacks last Tuesday, seven on Wednesday and 38 on Thursday.
Is the situation truly improving in Iraq? Is it possible to rely on these changes in everyday life or are they merely an illusion? According to the quarterly report that the Pentagon issued in mid-June, the number of armed incidents has declined by 70 percent since last summer, bringing it down to 2004 levels -- from about 180 daily incidents to 45. More than 320,000 of the 478,000 soldiers in the Iraqi Army, the report claims, are now capable of fighting without American support, and more than €3.8 billion ($5.9 billion) of Iraq's own reconstruction budget totaling €6.4 billion ($9.9 billion) has already been invested in projects. "The security, political and economic trends in Iraq continue to be positive; however they remain fragile, reversible and uneven," the report concluded.
This sounds like realism underscored by cautious optimism. An interim report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), which caused a stir in Washington last week, is more pessimistic. The authors are critical of the Iraqi government for still not having passed a law that would regulate the development of oil fields and the distribution of profits among the country's 18 provinces. They also criticize the US war effort in Iraq for consuming $400 million (€258 million) a day and point out that there is no evidence "of a strategic plan" by the US government.
The pessimists have strong arguments and experience on their side. And experience has shown that things usually go downhill in Iraq, with only brief uphill periods. Nevertheless, the number of optimists is growing, and the administration of US President George W. Bush no longer has a monopoly on confidence. After years of resistance, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have now announced that they will be sending ambassadors to Baghdad. Thanks to the high oil price, the economy in Iraq, which produces 2.5 million barrels a day, is also improving. The government has now been able to give its civil servants a generous pay increase, and it also expects to cut the price of gasoline, currently at €0.60 a liter ($3.52 a gallon), in half. Fittingly enough, German automotive giant Daimler plans to open an office in Baghdad and build trucks there in the future -- 18 years after Saddam Hussein's invasion of neighboring Kuwait.
Hat tip: Ace