White House Pushes Iraq Good News

Members of the U.S military's 401 Military Police Battalion wearing riot gear train in crowd control techniques, Wednesday, Oct 15, 2003 at their base in Tikrit, Iraq.
The Bush administration on Wednesday could point to hints of success in Iraq, as diplomatic efforts and reconstruction work bore fruit. Signs of trouble persisted, however, in Iraq and elsewhere.

The head of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council said Wednesday his country will "definitely" hold elections next year.

The U.S. predicted that the Security Council will approve a new Iraq resolution later Wednesday, despite U.S. refusal to bend to French, German and Russian demands for a more definite timetable.

If the resolution passes, it would be the latest in a series of diplomatic wins. Last week, Turkey agreed to send troops to Iraq. As President Bush headed to Asia on Wednesday, Japan said it would offer $1.5 billion to $2 billion in aid for the country.

But multiple obstacles remained: Consensus was unlikely at the Security Council, Iraqi leaders are balking at allowing in Turkish troops, Congress is hedging on the president's funding request and a former State Department official is questioning the case for war.

In recent developments:

  • Iraqis began trading in their old money Wednesday, exchanging dinar notes bearing pictures of Saddam Hussein for new bills that U.S. occupation authorities hope will become the currency of a revived economy.
  • Greg Thielmann, former aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell, tells 60 Minutes II in an interview to air Wednesday that at the time of Powell's February speech to the Security Council, Iraq didn't pose an imminent threat to anyone – not even its own neighbors.
  • The anti-American insurgency continued, with two Iraqis reported killed in a clash with U.S. troops in an area with lingering support for Saddam.
  • Armed supporters of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr staged protests near the great shrine of Imam Ali in the holy city of Najaf, as gunmen of a rival faction loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric, watched from rooftops. Al-Sadr has demanded the Americans set a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq.
  • Al Qaeda or its allies may try to mount a "spectacular" attack on U.S. forces in Iraq until they are ready to attempt another big attack on American soil, a think tank warned Wednesday.
  • Five Democratic Party presidential candidates divided into two camps Wednesday on President Bush's $87 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan, with Congressman Dick Gephardt and Sen. Joe Lieberman saying they will support the administration. Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio say they will oppose it.
  • Moderate senators of both parties worked on a consensus amendment Wednesday that would make some of the aid to Iraq a loan. The Bush administration continued trying to tamp down support for loans, which it said would feed suspicions that the United States wants to control Iraq's huge oil reserves.

    The Bush administration has frequently blamed the media for portraying Iraq as more violent and chaotic than it really is.

    Indeed, the American occupation force has the lights burning at prewar levels. Children, school uniforms starched and pressed, sit in classrooms painted and spruced up by U.S. troops.

    Rooftops bristle with satellite dishes — linking Iraqis to the outside world for the first time in decades.

    Violence is largely confined to a narrow region that includes Baghdad and runs north along the Tigris River to Saddam's hometown, Tikrit, and west along the Euphrates River in the dangerous cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Khaldiyah.

    In his six-month assessment of the U.S. occupation, L. Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator of the country, said more than 40,000 police were on duty nationwide, including 7,000 in Baghdad, compared with virtually none at the war's end.

    Bremer said that 8,000 miles of irrigation canals had been dredged and cleaned of choking weeds.

    In Baghdad, Commerce Secretary Don Evans said he believed the news media were painting too dark a picture of developments in Iraq. More of his countrymen should visit, he said.

    "Americans need to come here and see the opportunity. There is great economic opportunity," Evans said.

    Yet despite the progress, the dollar cost outstrips even high-end estimates for spending, and the cost in American lives is constant, approaching 100 soldiers or about one every other day killed since Mr. Bush declared major fighting over on May 1.

    The 13,000 reconstruction projects that the coalition says it has completed have done little to provide large-scale, steady employment. Unable to produce jobs, the stagnant economy fuels discontent and recruits young men for the insurgency.

    Bremer has put the unemployment figure at 60 percent, though some officials at the Labor Ministry think the real figure is 70 percent to 75 percent.

    Lawlessness and insurgency are a huge obstacle to improving the economy. Baghdad's international airport remains closed because it is vulnerable to missile attack. Carjackings, kidnappings and lesser crimes remain widespread in Baghdad and other cities. Recent bombings have further strained nerves in an already-tense city.

    While the U.S. lauded Turkey's decision to send in troops, the Governing Council has been adamant that it does not want peacekeepers from neighboring countries, fearing they would end up interfering in Iraq's internal affairs.

    For its part, the 25-member, U.S.-appointed Governing Council has been criticized as being too slow to present reforms and follow up on decisions it has made and the committees it has formed, including the writing of a new constitution.

    The U.S.-backed Security Council resolution is likely to get at least the minimum nine "yes" votes needed for adoption, according to many council diplomats. But the absence of a timetable diminished the possibility that it will be adopted with broad support from the 15 council members.

    It gives Iraqis until Dec. 15 to come up with a timetable for elections and a new constitution.