- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Najaf, Mosul and the Iraqi economy: These were the three pillars of President Bush’s speech yesterday before the Council on Foreign Relations, and they are three of the best reasons why Howard Dean is utterly wrong to predict American defeat in Iraq. One wouldn’t know it from the acrimonious debate in Washington, but the two former trouble spots are rapidly joining the 80 percent or so of Iraq that suffers little or no violence, while the Iraqi economy is looking better than it has in years.

Najaf used to be one of Iraq’s worst problem areas; now it has an elected government, political campaigns and signs of new economic activity. Iraqi police handle security; U.S. forces are now 40 minutes outside town, as Mr. Bush observed — a sign that a place once overrun by terrorist militias is returning to a normalcy it never enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, whose thugs terrorized the Shia city.

In 2004, Mosul ranked with Fallujah as perhaps the most infamously violent place in the country; today U.S. forces are moving into a supporting security role. Insurgent violence is still a problem, but last year’s chaos is over, and the city’s political leadership has regained control. As one of Iraq’s most populous cities and a center of commerce, Mosul’s improvements rank among the most encouraging signs that things are improving on the ground in Iraq.

The Iraqi economy is rebounding; real gross domestic product is expected to grow by 16 percent next year. Unemployment is still high at a one-quarter to one-third of the population but is down from highs of half or more of the country in the immediate aftermath of war. On a per-capita basis, income levels in Iraq since 2003 have doubled, according to World Bank data.

Why doesn’t official Washington notice this good news? The White House’s public-relations offensive draws some attention to it, but the question remains for the many antiwar politicians and the media who fail to acknowledge the signs of progress on the ground.