- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2003

For security reasons, our military transport plane tucked into a steep descent toward its final approach at Baghdad Airport. The cargo we were carrying — a truck, mail for our troops and various supplies under green tarps — bounced only slightly when the wheels touched the tarmac. A caravan of soldiers, armor and weaponry hastily welcomed our arrival and hustled us into bullet-resistant vehicles. This was a war zone. This is a burgeoning democracy. A soldier with his hands on an M16 and eyes aimed out the window greeted us, “Sirs, welcome to free Iraq.”

It is not surprising that “free Iraq” is not yet an entirely “safe Iraq,” but we’re making progress every day. In the months since the end of major combat, an international force led by the United States has been pushing progress on three fronts: democracy, the economy and security.

Democratic governance is taking shape. Discussions of political reform that would have brought a death sentence six months ago are now openly occurring. In the last few days, Iraq’s 25-member Governing Council has named a cabinet to administer government operations. The council is already working out the planned number of employees per ministry and which ministries from the old regime should be shuttered. The council is also preparing for free elections and exploring the best way to draft a constitution. Every day this council continues its work is another day the Iraqi people are closer to a free, democratic and peaceful society.

On the economic front, the chief challenge is setting the country on a path toward prosperity. That path begins with restoring basic services and leaving an infrastructure sufficient to foster economic growth. Under the leadership of Ambassador Paul Bremer, essential services are being restored and brought to areas where they never existed. Mr. Bremer says prewar Iraq produced no more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity per hour. Through U.S. assistance, the country is headed toward meeting the country’s actual demand of 6,000 megawatts. In addition to power, running water and health-care services are also becoming commonplace.

Long-term economics deals with more fundamental questions. Proposals are being sought from international banks and management groups on how to overhaul Iraq’s two largest banks, the first step in constructing a viable banking system. The proposal asks for detailed suggestions on how the two banks could develop new business strategies, expand loans to small and mid-size companies, develop a reliable private deposit base and create a consumer credit market in Iraq.

In the area of security, we are making progress, but we must be realistic about our opposition. There are remnants of the old regime and terrorists who wish nothing more than for tyranny to return. The attacks on our soldiers and the bombing of the United Nations headquarters building in Iraq should serve to steel our resolve to continue the work already begun. The primary reason the United States toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime was national security. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet confirmed “solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade.” Further, “al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities.” Put simply, progress in Iraq is progress in the war on terrorism.

Walking on the ground in Iraq presents views of progress and a vision of what the Iraqi people would like to see in their future. Whether it was the 30,000 farmers who signed and presented a letter of appreciation to the United States, or the groups of children who chased our military convoy smiling and cheering our arrival, the message is clear: we are creating a framework for democracy and we are making progress.

Without question, we will face obstacles. Through these we must remain strong and we must remain committed. And through that commitment, we will achieve success.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, and Rep. Ander Crenshaw, Florida Republican, visited Iraq in August.

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