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The Springer Journal: Iraq... One Year Later

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PINEHURST, N.C. — March 19 marks the first anniversary of the U.S. led coalition foray into Iraq and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. What a difference a year makes.

By nature I am an optimist. I see the positive where others may see the negative aspects of any venture. And there is a lot of good that has happened within Iraq in the past year.

For starters, all those bad things which were predicted to occur if and when we attacked Iraq just didn't happen. Hundreds of thousands did not flee the country and become a refugee problem for neighboring nations. Tens of thousands of coalition troops and Iraqi civilians did not die. The oil fields were not torched and damaged beyond repair. The Vietnam quagmire analogy did not materialize. It took only a few weeks to get to Baghdad and witness the collapse of the Iraqi army and their special forces.

To be sure, Iraq is not a peaceful place. There is still much to be done. Our coalition forces and innocent Iraqis become casualty victims nearly every day. Just this week a Baghdad hotel was destroyed killing and injuring scores of innocent people. Certainly there are those indigenous and foreign terrorists who do not want the coalition to succeed in bringing democracy, freedom and security to the 25 million Iraqis who have been liberated over the past year.

What about the good things that have happened in the past year? We don't hear as much about them from the various media sources. Let me list a few: 25 million citizens of Iraq have been liberated. An Iraqi Governing Council has been formed and operating as a transitional government, albeit still subordinate to the Coalition Provisional Authority. An interim constitution has been written and approved.This interim constitution provides equal rights for women (rights not proffered by the Hussein regime). There is protection for minority ethnic and religious groups. All Iraqis will have the right to peaceful assembly.

Iraqi courts have been reconstituted with an independent judiciary. Colleges and universities have reopened. Electricity and water … often heavily rationed during the Saddam Hussein regime … are well above pre-war levels.

The oil fields are pumping over two million barrels a day. Now however, the oil revenue is not benefiting Saddam and his sons. All of the nation's hospitals and clinics have been reopened. Schools are again open and providing an education without a heavy "Saddam is great" curriculum.

Over 200,000 Iraqis have been trained for the various security forces, such as the military, civil defense and police. The economy is getting stronger everyday with stores and street vendors peddling quality of life items unavailable just one year ago. A new currency has been introduced. Telephone service … and especially cell phone service … is available to a greater number of citizens. Over 170 "independent" newspapers have sprung up with "independent" reporting as opposed to the papers controlled by Hussein's son pre-March 2003.

And, oh yes, Saddam was captured and is in custody. His sons chose to fight and were killed by coalition forces. Iraqis no longer fear the arbitrary judgments, torture, killings and mass graves which were prevalent during the Hussein tyranny.

Iraq is on pace to become sovereign and self-governing by mid summer. Over the next several months and years there will be officially sanctioned nationwide elections. The transitional government will be replaced by a duly elected body and the interim constitution will be succeeded by a permanent document.

However, Iraq is not ready to provide for its own security. Terrorist attacks will not suddenly stop on June 30, 2004. United States and coalition forces will be needed to insure the new government will be able to function peacefully until a national army, civil defense force and police units are capable of insuring domestic security and the security of their borders. That may take years.

There are many here and abroad who are very critical of the progress being made in Iraq. They are equally critical of the failure of the U.S. and coalition forces to insure instant peace without attacks by terrorists and dissidents. Maybe we should all recall that it was several years after WWII ended that internal security within Germany and Japan was achieved.

The continuing instability within Iraq draws our attention and focus to the isolated, yet deadly, attacks by terrorist elements. If we choose to be objective, we need to focus as well on just how much good has been achieved in only one year.

My glass is half full!