The boom outside Baghdad is not bombs

Amir Taheri:

WHILE the American political elite is using Iraq as an excuse for fighting internal political wars, a different reality is taking shape in parts of this war-torn nation. Wherever some measure of security is assured - that is to say in more than 80 percent of Iraq - towns and villages long left to die a slow death are creeping back to life.

Nowhere is this slow but steady return to life more startling than in Um Qasr, in the southeast extremity of Iraq on the Persian Gulf. Four years ago, this was a jumble of rusting quays, abandoned houses and gutted buildings. By the spring of 2003, its population had dwindled to a few dozen, along with hundreds of stray dogs. There was even talk of abandoning it altogether.

Today, however, Um Qasr is back in business as a port with commercial and military functions. Hundreds of families that had left after the first Gulf War in 1991 have returned - joining many more who have come from all over Iraq.

The boom in Um Qasr is part of a broader picture that also includes Basra (the sprawling metropolis of southern Iraq), the Shi'ite "holy" cities of Najaf and Karbala, Mandali on the Iranian border and much of Baghdad.

When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank reported two years ago that the Iraqi economy was heading for a boom, skeptics dismissed it as misplaced optimism. Now, however, even some of those who opposed the toppling of Saddam Hussein admit that many Iraqis share that optimism.

Newsweek has just hailed the emergence of a booming market economy in Iraq as "the mother of all surprises," noting that "Iraqis are more optimistic about the future than most Americans are." The reason, of course, is that Iraqis know what is going on in their country while Americans are fed a diet of exclusively negative reporting from Iraq.

The growing dynamism of the Iraqi economy is reflected in the steady increase in the value of the national currency, the dinar, against the three currencies in direct competition with it in the Iraqi marketplace: the Iranian rial, the Kuwaiti dinar and the U.S. dollar, since January 2006.

...

... a good part of the boom is due to an unexpected flow of foreign capital. This has been facilitated by the prospect of a liberal law on direct foreign investments, which exists only in such free-trade parts of the region as Dubai and Bahrain. None of Iraq's six neighbors offers such guarantee for the free flow of capital to and from the country.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the number of private companies in Iraq has increased from a mere 8,000 to more than 35,000 this year. Each week an average of 60 new companies spring up in Iraq's booming areas. A good part of the investment in southern Iraq, including in Um Qasr, comes from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

...
This boom is the product of capitalism replacing socialism. Socialism has a way of making almost everyone poor. This success story will be short changed if the enemy is allowed to succeed in Iraq. The Democrats are willing to lose this opportunity, but it would be a tragedy for Iraq and the world if they do.

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