Did you know that Iraqi real-estate prices have gone up several hundred percent since the fall of Saddam Hussein?
That Iraqi workers’ salaries have increased more than 100 percent in that time?
That the number of cars in violence-torn Baghdad has grown by 500 percent in the same period?
That the Iraqi construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are all growing at a healthy pace?
Chances are that you are astonished by these facts. I certainly was when I read them in an article by Silvia Spring in the end-of-the-year edition of Newsweek International.
The piece is titled “Iraq’s Economy is Booming” and it’s a revelation. It goes on to mention that the number of registered businesses has increased from 8,000 to 34,000 in three years; that the number of cell phone subscribers has increased from 1.4 million to 7.1 million; that the stores are stocked with goods, and that consumers are buying them; that taxes have been cut, government revenues are up and that oil revenues and foreign grants are estimated at $41 billion for the year just ended.
Moreover, “Iraq’s official economic institutions are making progress,” the Kurdish region in the north is booming and with the oil fields in the south increasingly secure, oil production revenues are projected to grow substantially. The Global Insight firm,which tracks international economic activity, estimates Iraq’s GDP growth at 17 percent for 2005 and projected 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank’s estimate is lower (four percent for 2006), but the fact that there is any economic growth at all in Iraq will come as a shock to most people.
The article does not gloss over the country’s many problems— the raging sectarian violence foremost among them. Unemployment is estimated at a minimum of 30 percent, but even here there is a silver lining as foreign investment from neighboring countries is pouring into Iraq because of cheap labor. The author notes that “there is a vibrancy at the grassroots that is invisible in most international coverage of Iraq.”
You can say that again.
It is understandable (if deplorable) that the “mainstream” media (with the honorable exception of Newsweek International) would be unaware of these facts or uninterested in publicizing them.
But what about the Bush administration? Why has the Bush team not put on a full-court press to inform the public about these signs of progress in Iraq?
The American people are, understandably, demoralized by three and a half years of largely negative media coverage of Iraq. Most do not want a pullout from Iraq, however; they want victory.
But a daily digest of media coverage focused on American casualties and sectarian carnage in Baghdad is gradually leading the public to conclude that there is no hope of success in Iraq. The economic news coming out of Iraq does give real cause for hope, however.
It is a matter of the greatest urgency that President Bush — and his administration — inform the American people about Iraq’s economic strides. The president’s upcoming policy address on Iraq is the logical place to begin.
James C. Roberts is President of Radio America and the American Veterans Center.