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WHY IRAQIS ARE OPTIMISTIC
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
January 26, 2006

January 26, 2006 -- THE world's business and political elite who gath ered in Davos, Switzer land, for the World Economic Forum this week may have to rethink the gloomy assessment of the situation in Iraq that dominated their last two annual sessions.

The reason is not that Iraq is sending a delegation led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, although that will help. The latest argument for a reassessment of the situation in post-liberation Iraq comes from the WEF's latest "Voice of the People" poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews conducted in November and December in 60 countries across the globe.

The poll's key question: Is the world today more or less optimistic about future security and prosperity?

It found that the most pessimistic portions of humanity live in Western Europe and North America. In Western Europe, more than 67 percent believed that things will get worse for the next generation; only 11 percent were optimistic. In the United States, the pessimists and the optimists were divided 54 percent to 19 percent.

The WEF report says: "However, in the Middle East, an area of the world that has experienced many conflicts in recent times, the region is more upbeat about prospects for safety in the future. A quarter of those interviewed (24 percent) feel it will be safer, compared with one in three (30 percent) who feel the opposite."

The real reason for the good figures from the Middle East, however, is the optimism that the pollsters found in two countries: Afghanistan and Iraq.

The WEF report asserts that, "In both these countries, respondents were even more optimistic about future prospects. In Afghanistan, three-quarters (77 percent) think the next generation will live in a safer world, while in Iraq this view is held by six in every 10 (61 percent)."

This shows that the doomsters who, since 2002, had told Davos that that the toppling of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein would "open the gates of hell" may have been wide of the mark. Clearly, the end of the Taliban and the Saddamites has given Afghans and Iraqis a degree of optimism that they did not have before liberation.

The liberation of Afghanistan has been less controversial than that of Iraq, partly because even the most brazen apologists of fascism could not endorse the Taliban and justify al Qaeda's terror campaign across the globe.

The liberation of Iraq, however, was challenged for several reasons. The anti-American crowd hated it because it was led by the United States. The so-called leftists hated it because they saw Saddam as "an Arab Socialist" barring the route to Islamists. The pan-Arabists hated it because, to them, Saddam was the last of the "Arab nationalists."

The tyrants hated it because they feared that toppling one despotic regime might set a bad precedent. And all those who had ridden on the gravy train operated by Saddam and the United Nations hated it because liberation pushed them off the train — to possibly even face corruption charges.

But why did the Davosians dislike the liberation of Iraq?

The main reason was that the crowd that gathers in the Swiss ski resort has always suffered from a degree of political correctness — and, in international politics, PC means a strong dose of anti-Americanism.

You can't be chic unless you are anti-American, even if you are an American business or media tycoon or Hollywood star. Had Iraq been liberated by Switzerland, the PC crowd would have borrowed an extra pair of hands with which to applaud.

To prove that the toppling of Saddam was wrong, the PC crowd has prayed hard for Iraq to become "another Vietnam" or at least "a quagmire" — or failing even that, a stage for "Yankee Go Home" demonstrations.

None of which has happened. Instead, the Iraqis have been forming political parties, writing a constitution, setting up an independent judiciary, learning about pluralist politics, creating privately owned newspapers and TV and radio stations and holding elections — all while under assault from the most vicious terrorists in recent history.

The paradox of Iraq is that while daily news is often bad — especially when terrorists kill schoolchildren or pilgrims — the broader undercurrent of history is good. This is why Iraqis emerge as the most optimistic nation in the Arab world.

The reason is not hard to fathom. In some Arab countries, the average citizen may be safe on a day-to-day basis, especially if he steers clear of politics. But he knows that his future is unsafe because he has no say in shaping it.

The experience of life in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein was a good illustration of that paradox. Before liberation, Baghdadis had no reason to be concerned about daily security; there were no car bombs or suicide attacks. But they felt unsafe because they knew that the mad despot could, at any time, lead them into another tragedy.

Today, Baghdadis, at least in some districts in the west of the city, know that they risk their lives simply by leaving their homes. Yet Baghdad is the most optimistic Arab capital because its citizens are beginning to feel that they are in charge of their own destiny.

The WEF poll is not alone in portraying liberated Iraq as a land of hope and optimism. At least six other 2005 polls in Iraq had similar results — which the massive turnout of voters in the December referendum and the January election confirmed.

Hope for Iraq's future is also reflected in the rise in real-estate prices in Baghdad, Najaf and Basra. (The Kurdish provinces had already moved into the high-price bracket earlier.) Iraq's new currency, the dinar, is also doing well enough for Michael Stathis, a Wall Street portfolio adviser, to devote a whole book to it as "a possibly lucrative investment."

The International Monetary Fund's two annual reports on Iraq also offer an upbeat assessment, including the prediction that liberated Iraq could emerge as "the engine of growth" for the whole region in the coming decade.

Davos is hosting some 2,000 business leaders from across the globe. They would do well to cast a fresh look at Iraq as a place in which to do business. Iraq is a high-risk proposition. But, besides the fact that it has the world's second-largest oil reserves, it also has the region's biggest capital of hope.

The Iraqis have not yet convened their new parliament or formed their new government. They don't have as much electricity as they need, or enjoy the degree of security they desire. Many have no job. And there is no guarantee that, with so many forces determined to make Iraq fail, that things will not go downhill. Nevertheless, Iraqis are optimistic because they know that the nightmare of life under fascism is behind them.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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