Violence is not the only metric of progress in Iraq

Amir Taheri:

'A TORRENT of good news": So The New York Times described the reports of a significant fall in violence in Iraq. But reducing all Iraqi news to measures of violence can hamper understanding of a complex situation.

Those who opposed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 prefer to focus on violence, for it has seemed to confirm their claim that the war was wrong. They've downplayed all good news from post-Saddam Iraq - the end of an evil regime that had oppressed the Iraqi people for 35 years; the return home of a million-plus Iraqi refugees in the first year after liberation; the fact that the Iraqis got together to write a new constitution and hold referendums and free elections - for the first time in their history - and moved to form coalition governments answerable to the parliament.

The drop in violence is certainly a good thing. But other Iraq news, both good and bad, needs to be taken into account.

On the good side:

* More than 70 percent of the cells created by al Qaeda in Iraq have been dismantled, with vast amounts of money and arms seized from terrorists and insurgents. The so-called Islamic State in Iraq, set up by al Qaeda in parts of four provinces, has collapsed.

* Iraqis who'd sought temporary refuge in neighboring countries are returning home in large numbers - 1,000 a day returning from Syria alone.

* Thanks to mediation by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite coalition, the three groups that had withdrawn from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government are expected to return to the fold.

* The British forces' handover of Basra to Iraqi authorities was completed without a hitch; Iraq's second largest city is rapidly returning to normal.

* Iraq's national currency, the dinar, is trading at its highest level since 1990 against the Iranian rial, the Kuwaiti dinar and the US dollar.

* Iraqi oil production is at its highest since 2002. Oil Minister Hussein Shahrestani recently notified OPEC that Iraq intends to produce its full quota next year.

* There's a rush of applications to set up small and medium businesses. In Baghdad alone, the figure for October was 400, compared to 80 last August.

* The fourth American university in the Arab world, and the first in Iraq, has started work in Suleymanieh, close to the Iranian border.

And on the bad:

...

IRAQ today is a hundred times better than what it would have been under Saddam in any imaginable circumstances. Statistics of violence don't begin to measure the efforts of a whole nation to re-emerge from the darkest night in its history. And in that sense, the news from Iraq since April 2003 has always been more good than bad.

What is new is that now more Americans appear willing to acknowledge this - good news in itself. As long as the United States remains resolute in its support for the new Iraq, there will be more good news than bad from what is at present the main battlefield in the War on Terror.

His list of the bad is actually longer than his list of the good, but it does not seem as critical to Iraq's survival. Violence has always been overrated as a metric for success in wars like the one in Iraq. Its importance can fluctuate with which side has the initiative and whether the casualties resulting from the violence are weighed toward one side or the other. For exam[le in Afghanistan the casualty ratio is running up to 100 to 1 in our favor so any violence should suggest the Taliban are suffering.

One of the main reasons to stress the decrease in violence in Iraq is that it undercuts the main metric of the loser lobby in the media and the Democrat party.

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