Saturday, January 10, 2009

Iraq Elections, Tourism, and Fine Arts

Written 30 September 2008

Although the progress in Iraq continues to be blacked-out by the national media, and Barack Obama would like all of us to think it’s still a lost cause, (he is proving to be locked in the stubborn bubble of denial liberals always believed President Bush lived in) normal life continues to return to Iraq.

This month the Iraqi parliament passed updated election laws. The many different groups within Iraq once again demonstrated their ability to reconcile differences and find compromise in legislation, as they’ve been doing from the lowest to the highest levels of government for the last two years. They will hold elections early this winter. One quarter of the seats have been reserved for women, strong election laws to prevent voting fraud were enacted, and an electoral set up was established which allows strong voices for most of the minority groups, including the Sunni’s.

Dexter Filkins of the New York Times recently provided us with a detailed look at the peaceful streets of Iraq. His report about the conditions in Iraq was stunning, not only because it was positive news from a New York Times columnist, but because of the turn-around he’s seen since his last visit in 2006 and the depth of surprise captured in his column.

Restaurants and wine shops had not only been repaired and reopened, but were crammed with customers. Many places he’d seen before that had been “shuttered, shattered, broken, and dead” were now alive and active. On several occasions he didn’t recognize places he’d been before because their transformation was so dramatic. A two mile long riverside park in Baghdad that had been a no-man’s land was filled with thousands of people enjoying themselves, even after sundown.

Violence is down by as much as 90%. Wanted posters, or even whole billboards, encouraging citizens to turn in Mahdi Army and Al Qaeda militants or warning those same terrorists they have nowhere to hide have become part of the landscape. Civil infrastructure projects including sewer systems in once filthy ghettos have turned life on its head, for the better. The Iraqi Army is clearly taking the lead and American forces have moved into the background. Although he did speak to the fragility of the peace, there are still occasional suicide bombings; it is clearly a country prospering, as reflected in the tens of billions of excess dollars being generated by Iraq’s economy.

The conditions in Iraq have become so peaceful that it is once again open for tourism. Amir Taheri reported on companies which are making Iraq a tourist destination. Tours through Iraq’s holy sites, Christmas pilgrimages through historic Biblical locations, and a tour titled “Forgotten History” which visits places relevant to Iraq’s role in the development of civilization the last 2000 years are garnering more and more customers. Tours through Iraq’s ecological jewel, the marshes of the southeast, are also in play now that 60% of the marshes have been restored after Saddam Hussein tried to drain them while attempting to rid Iraq of the Shiites living there.

Arabs, Turks, and Iranians are now heading to Iraq for holidays and Europeans are just starting to make the country a tourist destination. Iraq is also reemerging as a cultural center with a recent festival featuring new Iraqi films, poetry, plays, concerts, paintings, comedy, and lectures drawing hundreds of artists from across the Arab world, including one poet who read some of his latest work to a full hall and “was surprised by the contrast between the reality in Iraq and images broadcast in the West.”

For those who refused to stick their head in the sands of defeat, those who continue to throw off the cloak of deceit placed on Iraq by liberal politicians and national media types, none of this comes as a surprise.

Those of us who have had the privilege of getting to know the Iraqi’s aren’t surprised by this either. We know them to be wonderful people determined to have a normal life. Mr. Filkins captured that sentiment simply but beautifully in his column when he quoted an Iraqi man who told him, “We are normal people, ordinary people, like people everywhere. We want what everyone else wants in this world.”

What everyone else in this world wants is freedom, something that must be fought for and nurtured at times, like in Iraq, but a force strong and motivating enough to drive an entire people to a new way of life; we should know.

No comments: