Where to Find Good News
The big story in Iraq is the little stories.
BY DANIEL HENNINGER
Friday, September 26, 2003 12:01 a.m.
Some 64% of Americans stand firm in support of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, according to The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll just out. That makes sense. But 51% now oppose Mr. Bush's request for $87 billion to rebuild Iraq. That makes sense, too. What evidence of progress in Iraq have the American people been given to sign another check?
If the people e-mailing and calling this office about Iraq at all mirror these poll numbers, they suggest that many Americans think the situation there can't be as bad as they are reading or seeing on TV but are confused about just what is going on there. Is Iraq as anarchic and homicidal as they've been given to believe the past 12 weeks? Or is something else happening in Iraq as well, something that would justify the moral and financial commitment the U.S. is making to win this war?
More of the media should embed themselves with the Iraqi people outside the Sunni Triangle, rather than inside the Baghdad bunker. But don't blame the media alone for not telling the full postwar story in Iraq. The administration's information effort so far has been poor. On Aug. 8 the White House released a "100 Days" progress report, but there's been little since. This is a shame, because if one makes the effort to dig for news beyond the front-page war deaths, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Baghdad's bad-news tail is wagging the entire Iraqi dog.
The Sunni Triangle in central Iraq--which runs west from Baghdad to Fallujah and Ramadi, north to Tikrit and back down to Baghdad--is beset with diehard Baathists, contract killers and in-migrating jihadists. Out beyond the Baghdad hellhole, however, what one finds is Dodge City after Wyatt Earp cleaned it up. That is, most of Iraq's 26 million people are trying to behave like citizens of a civilized nation, a large change that inevitably reveals itself as the effort to form up Edmund Burke's "little platoons."
"Basrah Moves Towards Religious Stability," reports Ahmed Mukhtar for Iraq Today, a new and useful source of information about the rebuilding--online at www.iraq-today.com, in English. Though the "former regime" tried to foment sectarian conflict in Basra, today Sunni, Shiite and Shakhi Muslims and Christians and Sabeans are trying to create joint self-help societies in the city of 1.4 million. "We regarded ourselves as original Iraqi residents," the Chaldean Christian leader Archbishop Gabriel T. Kassab told Iraq Today. "We had one destiny."
From Najaf, Sarmad S. Ali reports that "Security Efforts Target Foreigners," the "foreigners" being Iranian and Saudi infiltrators. But he also describes the rebuilding of the holy shrine of Imam Ali, which took a hit during a recent bomb attack. The marble work "is being done by Iranian workers who have come from the same quarries where the marble was made." Iraq's Olympic weightlifters, formerly fodder for Uday's amusements, have been invited to a training camp in the U.S.
Even from bloody Baghdad one reads that the Court of First Instance, the Iraqi civil court, is creating procedures to resolve disputes over debts, landlord problems and property confiscated during "the former regime."
But this is news written by Iraqis, who may tend toward hopefulness. Let us turn to a recent, underpublicized report from the U.S. National Democratic Institute, which sent an assessment mission to Iraq this summer (www.ndi.org). NDI's chairman is Madeleine Albright and its advisory committee includes Richard ("miserable failure") Gephardt.
The report's first sentence: "NDI's overwhelming finding--in the north, south, Baghdad and among secular, religious, Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish groups in both urban and rural areas--is a grateful welcoming of the demise of Saddam's regime and a sense that this is a pivotal moment in Iraq's history."
Touring the southern cities of Basra, Nassiriya and Aamara, NDI found, "Despite all of the obstacles, virtually every individual and group NDI met with in southern Iraq perceived this as a time of opportunity. . . . Iraqi citizens in the south demonstrated a hunger for information about the functioning of democracy." In the Kurdish-controlled north, NDI saw "clear evidence of a developing economy, relative security and prosperity and an active civil society and culture. . . . Local municipal councils are active and appear to be working."
The institute's advance delegation called Iraq "fertile ground for democracy promotion initiatives on a scale not seen since the heady days of the fall of the Berlin Wall." Sounds like a good story.
An American officer who worked on reconstruction in Mosul, well north of Baghdad, told me of meeting with young Muslawi lawyers who now want help forming a Mosul bar association and developing a modern system of defendants' rights. The Americans who lectured at the university in Mosul generally spoke in English because so many Iraqi professors speak English. The successes in Mosul, with two million people, are now being taken to smaller towns in the Nineveh province, generally with around 40,000 people.
About 10 days ago, some 140 delegates from eight districts in Salah-ad-Din province chose an interim governing council. The new council's members include a Shia woman from Bayji, tribal sheiks from Dujayl, religious leaders from Samarra and Kurdish and Turkmen members from Tuz. They of course posed afterward for group photographs.
Paul Bremer's Baghdad office is now, at last, assembling this information. In a world with an infinity of Web sites, the U.S. government should be able to create just one dedicated to this great story. The U.S. Central Command has a decent one at www.centcom.mil. If the press wants to debunk them, feel free; better that than nothing. The little stories of Iraq's rebuilding may not make the front page, but I know a lot of people who would like to read them, no matter where they appear.
Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on OpinionJournal.com.
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