Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

IRAQ; Objective Gauges

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

IRAQ; Objective Gauges

Article excerpt

Whether you agree with the war in Iraq or not, it has been frustrating that progress cannot be benchmarked. Some of the results had been classified, in fact.

The news media do a great job of reporting the violence in Iraq. Of course, human lives are an important factor in any war. Violence sometimes overshadows turnout by Iraqis at the polls, which has been remarkable.

Other than security and elections, however, there is a more complex picture emerging, best expressed in the Iraq Index produced by Michael O'Hanlon of The Brookings Institution. The index quantifies rebuilding efforts and offers objective criteria for following progress.

"It is the first in-depth, non-partisan assessment of American efforts in Iraq and is based primarily on U.S. government information," Brookings says on its Web site.

O'Hanlon served on a U.S. government delegation to Iraq to review postwar progress. In an interview, he described Iraq as the most violent, the most democratic and the most hopeful large Arab country. On a personal level, he said he has supported the war.

The most impressive improvement in Iraqi life has been communications, which are major breakthroughs in a country formerly ruled by a tyrannical government. The first step of every dictator is to abolish freedoms of speech, press, religion and assembly.

One of the major difficulties in rebuilding Iraq has been the inability to return reliable electric power to the citizens.

Here are a few of the key benchmarks:

-- Electric power. When asked which issues matter most to daily life, security is down the list. Iraqis list inadequate electricity No. 1.

There are just 13 hours of electricity in a day on average, which is no better than February 2003. Next on the list are inadequate housing, then unemployment, presence of multi-national forces, high prices and security.

-- Telephone subscribers: Almost 5 million as of August. The previous goal was 1.1 million by January 2004. …

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