American Enterprise Online | 3.27.06
By Alan W. Dowd

Three years ago this week, newspapers and newscasts were filled with reports that a sandstorm and Saddam’s Fadayeen fighters had stopped the American juggernaut in its tracks. The US-led Coalition of the willing, according to the unbiased press, was stuck or stranded somewhere between Kuwait and Baghdad. Typical of the gloomy reports were these, both filed on March 27, 2003: Coalition forces “found themselves bogged down fighting irregular Iraqi elements, some of them in civilian clothes” Added another, “The planned assault on Baghdad is now about three days behind schedule, officers here say privately, but the delays are caused not by the ambushes but by the huge sandstorm that swept in for several days.” Of course, by the first week of April, US forces were raising the American flag over Saddam’s palaces in Baghdad. 

This episode should serve as a reminder that a) there is always more happening than what is being reported; and b) what is being reported today may bear little resemblance to what happens tomorrow. Today, the bandwagon critics (who were once leading the charge to Baghdad) can accurately report that Iraq is bloodied and battered. But this sort of reporting is incomplete. The men and women of Operation Iraqi Freedom are achieving some truly amazing objectives, not the least of which is freedom in Iraq.

Here is just a small sampling of what US forces have accomplished in the past 36 months—and most of the press has failed to report:

Political Progress

  • In 2005 alone, Iraq held three nationwide elections, including elections for the interim government, a referendum on the constitution and elections for the constitutional government.
  • In January 2005, 8.5 million Iraqis participated in elections. In October, that number jumped to just under 10 million. By December 2005, almost 11 million Iraqis—76 percent of eligible voters—joined in the democratic process.
  • Today, there are 300 political parties and coalitions registered with Iraq’s election commission. 
  • A week ago, on the eve of the anniversary of Iraq’s liberation, a freely elected Iraqi parliament was sworn in; its 275 members are now hammering out a four-year plan for their government.
  • A year after the fall of Saddam’s regime, Iraq’s Central Criminal Court held just 10 trials a month. Today, Iraqi courts and Iraqi judges are handling some 10,000 felony cases each year—and administering the trial of Saddam Hussein.

Economic Rebirth

  • In 1980, Iraq’s annual per capita income was $3,836, which positioned it above Spain. By the end of Saddam’s reign, the average Iraqi was earning just $715 per year, placing Iraq behind Angola. For the first time in perhaps a generation, per capita income in Iraq is growing. In fact, it grew by more than 30 percent in 2005.
  • Iraq’s GDP is climbing: It was just $13.6 billion in 2003, but jumped to $25.5 billion in 2004, and then to $33.1 billion in 2005. The IMF expects Iraq’s GDP to grow by 10.4 percent in 2006 (after adjusting for inflation).
  • Since April 2003, Iraqis have launched 32,000 new businesses. In April 2004, they created their own stock market, which currently trades shares for 90 companies.
  • In December 2005, the European Union began the process of negotiations for a Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Iraq.
  • Over the years of Baathist rule, Iraq accumulated $124 billion in debt. As the State Department explains, that’s “more foreign debt as a share of GNP than any other country.” Thanks to US leadership, Iraq’s creditors have agreed to forgive 80 percent of Saddam’s debts.

Quality of Life

  • A third of Iraq’s schools—in peacetime used as places of Baathist indoctrination, and in wartime used as anti-aircraft sites and staging grounds for the attacks of the Fedayeen—have been rehabilitated. More than 36,000 teachers have been trained, and some 9 million books de-Baathified and reissued. 
  • There are 628 new schools under construction. All told, some 3,400 schools have been rehabilitated since 2003, according to the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
  • As AEI’s Karl Zinsmeister reports, Iraqi parents, by a margin of three to one, say education is better than before the war. He cites polling conducted by Oxford Research International revealing that 71 percent of Iraqis say life is “good;” more than half say that “life is already better for them than it was under Saddam;” and 61 percent say security is good in their area.

Infrastructure Reconstruction

  • Under Saddam, Iraq’s dilapidated and neglected infrastructure produced just 4,300 megawatts of electricity during peak times. (In 2001, by way of comparison, New York City required 10,470 megawatts during peak-demand time.) Most electricity was shunted to Baghdad and siphoned off for regime cronies. As a result, most Iraqis made due with between four and eight hours of electricity each day.
  • The US-led Coalition has added another 2,700 megawatts of electricity generation, but with more demand and an equitable distribution system now in place, electrical service remains less than optimal: Iraqis can now count on 12 hours of electrical service per day.
  • Under Saddam, oil production was around 2.3 million barrels per day. Constant attacks on pipelines and oil infrastructure nudged that figure downward to 2.08 million barrels per day in 2005. Today, Iraq is back at 2.3 million barrels per day. That figure should move higher by the end of this year, with new offshore terminals and 30 new wells coming online.
  • By Zinsmeister’s count, there are 44 Iraqi commercial TV stations and 72 commercial radio stations. In 2003, there were none.

International Legitimacy

  • According to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “We have now passed four major Security Council resolutions on Iraq, most of them unanimously, pledging the UN’s support for everything from an international mandate for our Coalition forces, to an international rejection of terrorism in Iraq, to the goal of advancing Iraq’s democratic process.”
  • In fact, after three years of war and counterinsurgency, 30 nations in addition to the US and Iraq still have boots on the ground. Together, they are contributing over 22,000 troops. The UN itself has 1,000 personnel operating in Iraq.
  • Despite French agnosticism, the EU pledged $235 million per year from 2004 through 2006.
  • The UN and World Bank have created a fund for infrastructure improvement. They have already allocated $1.1 billion for reconstruction projects such as repairs at the Port of Umm Qasr, construction of health clinics in all 18 provinces, and training for banking and government officials.


  • Decimated by two wars, Iraq’s air force is now officially back in business, having conducted its first combat operations by airlifting troops into a battle near Tal Afar. Likewise, the newly minted Iraqi navy is participating in port security operations near Basra and Umm Qasr.
  • To date, the Iraqi government has fielded 240,000 security forces, all trained according to Western military standards.  Indeed, new Iraqi troops are far more qualified than their predecessors, having been drilled by US and Iraqi officers in a five-week program modeled after US basic training and then followed by as many as seven weeks of specialty training. Iraq now has a military academy, a school for military police and a NATO-sponsored academy for senior military staff. In addition, Iraq boasts seven police academies (including one in Jordan).
  • The Coalition has trained and deployed 130 Iraqi army and police battalions (and counting). These new units are fighting alongside Coalition forces against the terrorists, and 60 of these units have taken the lead role in operations. In a sign of Iraq’s grim determination, an estimated 37,000 Iraqis have been killed in the democracy-building phase of this war.

To keep abreast of this historic mission to plant freedom in Iraq, visit the Iraq websites at the State Department and Defense Department.


US Department of State, “Rebuilding Iraq: U.S. Achievements through the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund,” February 2006

US Department of State, “Fact Sheet: Operation Iraqi Freedom: Three Years Later,” March 18, 2006.

US Department of State, “Iraq Weekly Status Report,” December 14, 2005.

The White House, “President outlines strategy for victory in Iraq,” November 30, 2005.