The year since a U.S.-led coalition began its campaign to free Iraq has brought advances in many areas, including health, education, and the economy. Saddam Hussein’s regime was deposed and the Iraqi dictator will answer for his crimes. Iraq is on the path to regaining its sovereignty on June 30th.
Iraqis have approved an interim constitution guaranteeing basic rights. These include freedom of religion and expression, the right to assemble peaceably, and the right to equal treatment under the law. Discrimination based on gender, nationality, or religion is now strictly prohibited.
Iraqis have access to more than one-hundred newspapers and seventy radio stations. Electricity levels in Iraq now exceed pre-war levels. Iraq’s oil infrastructure is being rebuilt, with the oil industry now producing two-million-five-hundred-thousand barrels a day. More than two-thousand schools have been rehabilitated and over thirty-thousand teachers trained. Iraq’s 2004 budget for health care is nine-hundred-fifty-million dollars. In contrast, Saddam Hussein’s regime spent only sixteen-million dollars on health care in 2002. And small businesses are thriving, creating new jobs for Iraqis.
But while the vast majority of Iraqis seek a life of freedom and prosperity, serious security threats remain. “What we’re witnessing today in Iraq,” says U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “is a power-play between those who favor terrorism and a return to oppression, and those determined to have freedom and self-government”:
“Those who oppose the Iraqi people’s transition to freedom and self-rule will not be permitted to derail it. U.S. forces are on the offense. The United States and our partners and free Iraqi forces are taking the battle to the terrorists. We will certainly not allow fugitives from Iraqi justice to stop progress towards a better life for twenty-five million Iraqi people.”
Iraqis are beginning to take charge of their own security. While building an effective Iraqi security force is a challenge, the recent creation of the Ministry of Defense, Intelligence Service. and a National Security Adviser is a step in the right direction. These agencies will be headed by civilians. More than two-hundred thousand Iraqis serve in the new Iraqi security forces.
Iraq and the coalition are facing a test of will. Says Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, “we will meet that test.”