By MIKE GUDGELL and MARK
MOONEY BAGHDAD Jan. 16, 2009
The first ATMs have opened in Iraq since the invasion five years ago -- an
encouraging factoid contained in a new by-the-numbers Defense Department report
about progress in the country.
In fact, there are now 20 ATMs in Baghdad, where the banking system was so devastated a few
years ago that the United States had to fly in pallets stacked with dollars to
pay government employees. Some restaurants even accept credit cards these days.
The details about the ATMs and what is hailed as Iraq's move "into the
electronic banking age" is tucked into a 58-page quarterly report the Defense
Department submitted to Congress this week.
The document, Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, is an accountant's
version of Iraq. Nearly every paragraph has a number in it and the numbers that
caught the media's immediate attention are those concerning war and death: Civilian deaths are down 63
percent and the number of roadside bombs are down 44 percent -- though
assassinations are up.
But other figures in the report give an inkling about life in the shattered country. Many of those indicate that pieces are
slowly being put back together.
One notable piece of data: There hasn't been a blackout of the national grid
"The Iraqi government continues to manage the electricity sector with
increased effectiveness," the report states.
Even more remarkable is the indication that the insurgency has pretty much
stopped blowing up the towers that carry power lines.
"Improved security has nearly eliminated interdictions," the report says. "In
September 2008, sand storms knocked down several towers and the Ministry of
Electricity had crews on-site within 24 hours to begin repairs." No blackouts
doesn't mean power 24-7, but the report is pleased to note that on average, the
grid is providing power 14 hours a day, a big step for a country that has been
largely running on private generators in recent years.
That 14-hour figure is an average, however. The allocation of power comes and
goes depending on the political or ethnic composition of each area or, often,
who pays the biggest bribe.
Daily power can be as little as four hours and the roar of private generators
remains the constant background noise of Baghdad.
Most observers don't see a significant improvement in the country's energy
situation until 2014.
The country's first new hospital in 22 years opened in Basra. And the number
of Iraqi doctors coming home is on the rise. Only 200 returned to Iraq in 2007,
but in 2008 the pace picked up to about 80 a month -- so that more than 800
badly needed doctors returned to Iraq last year.
Disheartening Trend: More Female Suicide Bombers
Much of the country was a no-fly zone for years. Even President Bush had to
fly into Baghdad in a twisting corkscrew pattern two years ago to avoid being a
target for insurgents.
But Iraqi air travel is enjoying a boomlet. There are now twice-weekly
flights between Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, and Najaf Airport was
opened to commercial flights last November.
Not all of the numbers are encouraging and some are disheartening.
While violence may be down overall, techniques for attacks continue to
The Iraqi government "faces increased demand for female security personnel
because of the large increase in female suicide bombings -- 41 women have
carried out suicide attacks this year," it says.
As a consequence, 1,000 women have been recruited into the Daughters of Iraq,
a security force. The report notes in an aside, however, "Female police and
volunteers face substantial hurdles to gain societal acceptance."
Perhaps most welcome to Iraqis is the plunge in non-war related deaths -- a
figure that any police commissioner in the U.S. would welcome: "Murders have
decreased 98 percent," the report says.
Water and sewage services actually are deteriorating, despite the billions
spent on new water treatment facilities.
"National polling indicates that 64 percent of Iraqis can get safe clean
drinking water at least some of the time," the report says. "This is down seven
percentage points from November 2007."
And in a blow to quality of life, it found that "only 39 percent of Iraqis
state that they have a working sewage disposal system at least some of the time,
down nine percentage points from November 2007."
With the decline of violence, there is a rise in expectations, putting
additional pressure on the Iraqi government to improve sanitation, electricity,
sewage, water, street cleaning and other staples of a functioning government.
While the world, and most Iraqis, see the country as a dangerous war zone,
one statistic found that the closer to home, the better the situation looked.
"Research conducted in October 2008 reveals that 76 percent of Iraqis
described the security situation in their neighborhoods as calm," the report