- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

It has been less than a month since the end of combat operations in Iraq and already the glass-half-empty crowd is portraying America as having won the war but losing the peace. I had the opportunity to visit Baghdad over the Memorial Day weekend with several of my House colleagues and witnessed American ingenuity and Iraqi determination firsthand.

The war eliminated a grave national security threat, deposed an evil dictator and liberated millions of people from oppression. Today, basic services throughout the country are being restored, a new democratic government is being planned and people no longer live in fear of punishment for expressing their thoughts or worshipping their religion. We applaud America’s military and its allies for their courage and heroism in securing this victory.

The claims that progress is too slow, the situation unstable and the United States lacks the expertise to get the job done does not reflect reality on the ground in Baghdad, Kirkuk and beyond. Indeed, the critics who complain that the seeds of democracy will not take root in the sands of a desert where tyranny ruled are as wrong today as the pessimists were in 1945.

In the aftermath of World War II, Japan and Germany were nations utterly destroyed by war and with a long tradition of militaristic rule. With the unwavering support of the United States and its allies, Japan and Germany were reborn as were full-functioning democracies within 10 years. Today, they stand as prime examples of freedom’s power to lift up people economically and ensure tyranny’s demise.

These changes did not occur overnight, and there were bumps in the road.

Likewise, Iraq will not be rebuilt in a matter of only four weeks, especially after the years of abuse Saddam Hussein inflicted on his people, their land and their natural resources.

Indeed, it is inaccurate to define the task before the United States as rebuilding alone when, in fact, much of our time will be devoted to building the basic infrastructure of the nation. During our visit, it was clear that many of the delays in restoring essential services were not the result of war, but rather neglect by the regime. So much of the country has been plundered by Saddam and his henchmen for their personal gain while many Iraqis live in abject poverty, unable to afford basic necessities such as food and medicine.

Under Saddam, 40 percent of the population did not have clean water to drink, more than 500,000 children were malnourished and 1 in 8 died before age 5. Half of Iraq’s hospitals have disappeared in the past decade, 70 percent of its schools are in disrepair, and electricity in parts of the nation was as rare as the right to express one’s mind freely.

During our time in Baghdad and Kirkuk, it was clear everyday life already is improving for millions of Iraqis.

• Electricity: After living for decades with limited electric service, many Iraqis in the north and south have more power than before the war, and in Basra residents have power 24 hours a day. Electricity is also being supplied round-the-clock to public hospitals, water treatment plants and sewage facilities.

• Clean Water: In less than one month, Iraq’s water system is running at 60 percent of prewar levels, and some parts of the country report more water than ever before. Extensive repairs to water treatment facilities are under way and being supported by international aid organizations.

• Security: A secret police that tortured and killed at will has been replaced by approximately 5,000 officers who are patrolling Iraq’s streets to maintain the rule of law rather than the rule of oppression. Eighteen police stations have been established and 25 are more expected to become operational shortly. In addition, the court system and prisons are functioning to maintain law and order.

• Health care: The people of Baghdad are receiving basic health care and no outbreaks of epidemics of cholera, dysentery and other diseases have occurred. Doctors and nurses have returned to work, warehouses full of medicine and supplies are available and a national vaccination program is being developed.

• Free elections: In the first steps toward self-government, 17 of 26 Interim Town Councils have been installed. The Iraqi people will increasingly assume greater control over their country’s economic and political reconstruction as well as vast supplies of natural resources. Progress also is being made in forming a democratic national government that will protect religious freedom and represent Iraq’s myriad ethnic groups.

The reconstruction of Iraq and the formation of a civil society that respects basic human rights must be measured in years, not weeks. Human liberty must be pursued over time, not clocked like a sprint. Even the American journey took time.

The United States will fulfill its commitment to Iraq, and then we will depart, having liberated a nation, freed a people and established a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people.

Vito Fossella, a New York Republican, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.


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