AMIR TAHERI ha vuelto de Iraq y ha explicado en el Sunday Times del pasado domingo sus impresiones sobre lo que ha visto allí. Como no se puede acceder al texto fuera del Reino Unido, reproduzco a continuación el amplio extracto que recoge Norman "The Professor" Geras, en cuyo blog lo he visto. De lectura obligada:
Iraq today is no bed of roses, I know. I have just come back from a tour of the country. But I don't recognise the place I have just visited as the war zone depicted by the Arab and western media.
It is true that Saddamite leftovers and their allies have stolen enough money and arms to continue their campaign of terror and disruption for some time yet. But they have no popular following and have failed to develop a coherent national strategy. The Iraqi civil defence corps has gone on the offensive, hunting down terrorists, often with some success. At the same time attacks on the Iraqi police force have dropped 50% in the past month.
There is also good news on the economic front. In the last quarter the dinar, Iraq's currency, has increased by almost 15% against the dollar and the two most traded local currencies, the Kuwaiti dinar and the Iranian rial.
Thanks to rising oil prices, Iraq is earning a record £41m to £44m a day. This has led to greater economic activity, including private reconstruction schemes. That money goes into a fund controlled by the United Nations but Iraqi leaders want control transferred to the new interim government, when sovereignty is transferred at the end of this month.
Despite the continuing terrorist violence Iraq has attracted more than 7m foreign visitors, mostly Shi'ites making the pilgrimage to Najaf and Karbala where (despite sporadic fighting) a building boom is under way. This year Iraq has had a bumper harvest with record crops, notably in wheat. It could become agriculturally self-sufficient for the first time in 30 years.
Nor should one believe the claims of self-styled experts that the Iraqis are not ready for freedom. During the past 10 months elections have been held in 37 municipalities. In each case victory went to the moderate, liberal and secular candidates. The former Ba'athists, appearing under fresh labels, failed to win a single seat. Hardline Islamist groups collected 1% to 3% of the vote.
Iraq is like a jostling school of democracy with people coming together in clubs, associations, non-governmental organisations, tribal councils, professional guilds and trade unions to talk about the future now that Saddam Hussein's one-party state has disintegrated.
On my visit to southern Iraq I attended many meetings in mosques, shops in the souks and abandoned office buildings. Everywhere Iraqis were busy using their newly won freedom of expression to discuss their political future.
Yet this is the one area in which the coalition has done little. Despite the fact that President George W Bush has promised to help Iraq to become a model of constitutional government for the Muslim world, there has been no effort to provide training and logistical support for the 30 or so parties that will contest the election in January.
Pro-democracy voices dominate the new privately owned Iraqi press which, with more than 200 dailies, weeklies and periodicals, represents a breath of fresh air in the state-controlled Arab media.
Preparations for self-rule have been under way for months. All but four of the 26 government departments set up after liberation are now under exclusive Iraqi control. The provisional government headed by Iyad Allawi, the prime minister, has been sworn in ahead of the formal transfer of power at the end of the month.
Over the past year Iraq has absorbed nearly 1m refugees, returning home often after decades of exile in Turkey and Iran. Some 400 of the 5,000 villages razed by Saddam as part of his ethnic cleansing have been rebuilt. Life is returning to the Ahwar region in the south of the country where Saddam dislodged tens of thousands of people and caused one of the biggest ecological disasters of the past century by draining the marshes.
"We are coming out of the cold," says [Iraqi politician Heydar] al-Ayyari. "The world should help us put our house in order." But this is precisely what many in the West, and the Arab world, won't do.
Having opposed the toppling of Saddam, they do not wish to see Iraq build a better future. Arab despots and their satellite television channels fear a democratic Iraq that could give oppressed people of the region dangerous ideas. The anti-American coalition in the West shudders at the thought that someone like Bush might put Iraq on the path of democratisation.
The new government - which includes five women - appears to be a broad-based coalition representing Iraq's ethnic, religious and political diversity. The president is Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, the deputy president is Ibrahim Jaafari, a Shi'ite, and the second deputy is Rowsch Shways, a Kurd. But it will need strong support in military, political and economic terms for some time, as the increased violence that marred last week's ceremony demonstrates.
Allawi said he expected Iraq to continue its close "partnership" with the US and European states after the handover of partial powers. He said "friendly" countries would continue "defending Iraq until it could defend itself".
Key to the success of the provisional government is the perception that it holds real power.
It is imperative that it controls Iraq's armed services and police and has a real say in how the coalition uses its forces in Iraq. The government must also control Iraq's oil income and have a say in how the American aid package is spent.
For a country emerging from half a century of dictatorship and three wars in one generation, things in Iraq are better than anyone might have expected. Even a moderate success here could transform the whole of the Middle East.
Iraq is not about to disintegrate. Nor is it on the verge of civil war. Nor is it about to repeat Iran's mistake by establishing a repressive theocracy. Despite becoming the focus of anti-American energies in the past year, its people still hold the West in high regard. Iraq has difficult months ahead, nobody would dispute that. But it has a chance to create a new society. Its well-wishers should keep the faith and prove the doomsters wrong.