At the time of this writing, we’re on the cusp of witnessing a historic event in Iraq: the free election of the full-term government of the country. Despite terrorists violently trying to disrupt the process, candidates haven’t been swayed from participating in this election, and they’re actively campaigning for office.
Despite polls that show Iraqis are confident and positive about the future of their country, some politicians in our own country are loudly voicing the idea that the U.S. should pull out of Iraq. I believe that would be a foolish mistake on our part, and I believe much of the recent spate of criticism over U.S. actions in Iraq is due, in large part, to an effort to gain a partisan political advantage.
I’ve never minced words about how long the U.S. would be in Iraq. From the beginning, I’ve said we would be in the country for a minimum of five years, if not much longer. With the progress we’ve made to this point—and the improvements we’re yet to make—I see no need to alter that prediction.
We’ve made solid progress in Iraq in the two and a half years since we sent troops into the country, yet much of that progress doesn’t get reported in the morning paper or on the evening news. Colleagues who’ve traveled to Iraq come back with stories of Iraqi citizens who support U.S. efforts and of a country undergoing positive changes in both the political and economic fronts.
One of the most important developments is that, as every day passes, more Iraqis are involved in their military, which relieves the pressure on the coalition forces. As Iraqi troops transition into the lead role in battling terrorists throughout the country, more local citizens are turning against the terrorists and supporting the troops.
The economy of Iraq has begun to move forward with a new currency, reopening of their stock exchange, and the dissemination of loans to encourage the creation of small and independent businesses. More than 30,000 new businesses have opened since coalition efforts began, and those are just the “official” businesses registered with the government. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a prominent Democrat with vast international relations experience, said after a trip to Iraq in November that “progress is visible and practical…there are many more cars on the streets, satellite television dishes on the roofs, and literally millions more cell phones in Iraqi hands than before. All of that says the Iraqi economy is growing.”
At the same time, coalition efforts have helped rebuild the infrastructure, including irrigation systems to assist more than 400,000 rural citizens and improved drinking water systems for more than 3 million people. In all, there have been well over 300 water projects undertaken in the country. The U.S. has assisted in more than 400 projects to expand the electric grid in Iraq, and we’re working with Iraq’s leaders to establish a reliable electric system throughout the country.
More than 5 million Iraqi children have been vaccinated against a variety of diseases. Almost 250 hospitals have been renovated, and more than 560 have been updated with new equipment and supplies. More than 700 schools have been renovated, 36,000 teachers trained, and 7 million textbooks purchased—all because of actions taken by the coalition and our partners in Iraq.
These are the stories we don’t see in the U.S., yet these are the facts on the progress we’ve made in Iraq.
The December elections for the full-fledged government will serve to enhance and strengthen the progress made so far in Iraq. A legitimate government, freely elected by the people of the country, will underscore the tremendous progress made on the political and governmental front in Iraq. This government also will help to further strengthen the Iraqi economy.
Have mistakes been made along the way? Yes. There needs to be better oversight of how funds are spent. In certain areas, we could’ve engaged the Iraqi people in a different way. And were weapons of mass destruction present before we invaded? As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I was privy to the most complete information available, and I was convinced, as were a vast majority of my Democratic and Republican colleagues, that Saddam possessed these weapons. If that intelligence was wrong, then people need to be held accountable.
To those who doubt the United State’s presence in Iraq, I say that we have a clearly defined strategy for Iraq. We’re training more Iraqi troops every day. We’ve assisted the Iraqi people in establishing a democratically-elected government. We’re helping build the infrastructure that, in turn, provides jobs and drives the economy for Iraq.
If we hastily pull the U.S. presence from Iraq, the progress made so far will be for naught. In an effort to validate their tactics, terrorists are hoping we’ll fail in Iraq, exit the country, and let the democratic government devolve into anarchy. But a stable, democratic Iraq will be a strong ally for the U.S. in the Middle East and in the war on terror, and that’s why we need to stay and fight the terrorists. With this strong coalition helping to support the Iraqi citizens, I certainly envision an Iraq a decade from now that’s a vibrant, democratic leader in the Middle East and the Arab world. IBI