The good news from Iraq — leading indicators

Commentary has posted the article by Amir Taheri, “The Real Iraq,” that I discussed yesterday. Taheri compares the Iraq of today to the one he has known over the past 40 years by looking at five leading indicators. Each supports his view that the country has made extraordinary progress in just a few years.

The first indicator is refugees. During bad times, Iraqis have fled, or attempted to flee, the country en masse. Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, however, more than 1.2 million Iraqis have returned. Yet our MSM fixates on the relatively small number of Iraqis who have moved from one location in Iraq to another due to sectarian violence.

The second indicator is pilgrimages. From 1991 to 2003, there were virtually no pilgrimages to the religious shrines in Karbala and Najaf. In 2005, these sites received an estimate 12 million pilgrims. Moreover, the return of 3,000 Shiite clerics from exile has helped re-establish Najaf as a center of religious learning. As such, it provides an alterative to Qom in Iran where a radical and highly politicized version of Shiism is taught. By contrast, Najah provides for the study of more traditional quietist forms of the religion.

The next indicator is the value of the Iraqi dinar. It was in free-fall during the last years of Saddam. Today, it is rising against the Kuwaiti dinar, the Iranian rial, and for that matter, the U.S. dollar (which is not to express any opinion on whether our readers should invest in this currency).

Fourth, Taheri focuses on the level of activity by small and medium size businesses. In the past, he says, whenever things have gone downhill in Iraq, large numbers of such enterprises have simply shut down. Since liberation, however, the private sector is booming. According to Taheri, the IMF and World Bank have found the Iraqi economy to be outperforming all others in the region (Taheri relies on comparisons between 2003 and 2004 — understandable because later data apparently is not available, but potentially misleading, perhaps, due to the fact that a full-scale war occurred in 2003).

For the first time since the 1950s, Iraq is exporting foodstuffs to its neighbors. And Taheri notes that even the oil industry, a constant target of the terrorists (to the tune of more than 3,000 attacks and attempts at sabotage), is progressing. Iraq has resumed its membership in OPEC, returned to the world markets as a major exporter, and is projected to meet its full OPEC quota of 2.8 million barrels a day by the end of the year.

Taheri’s final indicator is political speech. Obviously, there was very little of it under Saddam. Today, Iraq has talk radio, talk television, and of course blogs. Taheri also witnessed heated debate in shops, tea houses, bazaars, mosques, offices, and homes. There is also a vast network of independent media, including over 100 privately-owned newspapers and magazines. No place else in the Arab world can match this, though more and more Arabs probably would like to try.

I’ll have more on Taheri’s piece later. But please do read the whole thing.

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