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9/23/03 - AS LONG AS IT TAKES - 2003-09-24

Iraq is being transformed. Streets are lined with shops selling books and newspapers with a wide range of opinions. Schools and universities are open, teaching young Iraqis the skills to live in freedom. All Iraq’s major cities and more than eighty-five percent of the towns have councils that are taking care of local needs. “Iraqis,” says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, “are on the road to democratic self-government”:

“Behind every statistic and every political accomplishment is something that is even more important: the end of fear and a new spirit of freedom being born. That spirit is spreading far and wide.”

Iraq has come a long way since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Iraq is a rich country. But Saddam squandered Iraq’s resources on deadly weapons programs. While children died from starvation, and political opponents were imprisoned, tortured, and killed, Saddam was lavishing money on palaces and other luxuries for himself, his family, and his cronies.

But serious problems remain in Iraq, starting with security. Iraqi officials, coalition forces, and United Nations humanitarian workers have been attacked. The attackers range from leftover Saddam loyalists, to criminals who were set loose when Saddam emptied the jails, to outside terrorists who have come to Iraq to open a new front in their campaign against the civilized world. Restoring Iraq, says Mr. Powell, will take time:

“Democracy will come to Iraq. And when it does, all those in the Middle East who are in thrall to their own fears of change will be faced with a choice. They can move forward with the rest of the world, or stagnate in their own insecurities. Those imprisoned, not by Islam, certainly, but by a lack of confidence in their societies’ ability to embrace a better future, will no longer be able to intimidate others into joining their cabals of the close-minded. That is a day which the many lovers of liberty in the Middle East look forward to. And I hope that as long as we remain engaged, as we lead an international coalition, they will not be disappointed.”

As Secretary of State Powell put it, the Iraqi people “must be given the tools and the support to build a peaceful and prosperous democracy. They deserve no less.”