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10/20/03 - IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION - 2003-10-21

For the first time in four decades, Iraq is free. And as Rajea al-Khuzai, a member of Iraq’s Governing Council puts it, “Now we are savoring freedom.” There are no more torture chambers for political prisoners. A new constitution will soon be written. A new currency, without Saddam Hussein’s picture, has been issued.

Iraq’s infrastructure was brittle because of thirty-five years of under-investment and neglect by Saddam Hussein. It is being repaired. Since liberation, Iraqis and the coalition have completed more than thirteen-thousand reconstruction projects in Iraq, involving schools, medical facilities, and other basic services. All of Iraq’s two-hundred-forty hospitals are open and so are ninety-percent of the country’s health clinics. Schools are open, including Iraq’s twenty-two universities.

Six months ago, there were no police on duty in Iraq. Today, there are more than forty-thousand. Six months ago, only three-hundred megawatts of electric power were being generated. This month, electric power generation reached more than forty-five-hundred megawatts, exceeding pre-war levels.

Six months ago, there was no freedom of expression in Iraq. Today, there are more than one-hundred-sixty newspapers with a wide variety of opinions. Nada Shawket, a writer at the Azaman newspaper, says, “Before we write as they tell us. Now we write what we believe.” . The goal of the U.S. and its allies, says President George W. Bush, “is to leave behind a stable, self-governing society” in Iraq:

“We want this process to go as quickly as possible. Yet, it must be done right. The free institutions of Iraq must stand the test of time. And a democratic Iraq will stand as an example to all the Middle East. We believe -- and the Iraqi people will show -- that liberty is the hope and the right of every land.”

The “work in Iraq has been long, it’s hard, and it’s not finished,” says President Bush. But, “We’ll stay the course.”