If you haven’t read it yet, The Real Iraq by Amir Taheri (former executive editor of Kayhan, Irans largest daily newspaper), is this week’s must-read.
- By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees [to Iraq] topped the 1.2-million mark.
- In 2005, the holy sites [of the Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf] received an estimated 12 million pilgrims, making them the most visited spots in the entire Muslim world, ahead of both Mecca and Medina.
- Over 3,000 Iraqi clerics have also returned from exile, and Shiite seminaries, which just a few years ago held no more than a few dozen pupils, now boast over 15,000 from 40 different countries. This is because Najaf, the oldest center of Shiite scholarship, is once again able to offer an alternative to Qom, the Iranian holy city where a radical and highly politicized version of Shiism is taught. Those wishing to pursue the study of more traditional and quietist forms of Shiism now go to Iraq where, unlike in Iran, the seminaries are not controlled by the government and its secret police.
- the new Iraqi dinar has done well against the U.S. dollar, increasing in value by almost 18 percent between August 2004 and August 2005. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, and millions of Iranians and Kuwaitis, now treat it as a safe and solid medium of exchange.
- According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as well as numerous private studies, the Iraqi economy has been doing better than any other in the region. The countrys gross domestic product rose to almost $90 billion in 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), more than double the output for 2003, and its real growth rate, as estimated by the IMF, was 52.3 per cent.
- Iraq now exports foodstuffs to neighboring countries, something that has not happened since the 1950s.
- vast network of independent media has emerged in Iraq, including over 100 privately-owned newspapers and magazines and more than two dozen radio and television stations.
- By September 2005, more than 8.5 million Iraqi children and young people were attending school or universityan all-time record in the nations history.
- By January 2006, all of Iraqs 600 state-owned hospitals and clinics were in full operation, along with dozens of new ones set up by the private sector since liberation.
- Iraq has resumed its membership in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and has returned to world markets as a major oil exporter.
- all political parties representing the Arab Sunni minority have joined the political process and have strong representation in the new parliament.
Read it all.