Transcript: Iraq's Business Buzzing?

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This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," December 28, 2005, that was edited for clarity.

STUART VARNEY, GUEST HOST: Most agree Iraqis are indeed better off without the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein. But you may be shocked to know how much better off they are economically. The numbers are clear.

And my next guest, just joining us now from Iraq, he's going to share it with us, Thomas Delare. He is minister counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Minister, welcome to the program.

And, look, we can go through the numbers all day long, unemployment cut in half. The economy is a third larger than it was, 31,000 businesses operating. Can you say flat-out, categorically, Iraqis are much better off economically, financially, than they were just a couple of years ago?

THOMAS DELARE, U.S. COUNSELOR FOR ECONOMIC AFFAIRS IN BAGHDAD: Iraqis are clearly better off than they were under Saddam Hussein.

"Much better off?" Well, that's a relative term. But we see progress every day. You see it in the kind of construction that's ongoing. You see it in the kind of purchases people are making and the kind of services they now have and are consuming.

They're considerably better off. And we believe, next year, 2006, should be a turnaround year, when a new government takes its seat, and is in a position to actively pursue the kind of legislation this country needs to get the economy jump-started.

VARNEY: Are you in a position to assess the average Iraqi's standard of living, their position economically, in relation to neighboring countries, for example, Syria? Are Iraqis on a par economically with Syria?

DELARE: Syria is probably a bad comparison.

We would prefer to compare it with a country like Jordan, that has made real strides forward. And there, of course, they are not doing as well. But it's good to have a neighbor that you can emulate, a neighbor that you can attempt to catch up with.

VARNEY: So, that's an interesting question, because I always thought Jordan was relatively advanced economically.

Amman is a very modern city, and vibrant, at that. You're telling me that Iraq is almost on a par with that? I think that's a very interesting concept. I don't think Americans realize that.

DELARE: No, no, no. No, I'm trying to say that, as they look outside their own borders, where they should emulate, they should be looking at a country, for example, such as Jordan or Turkey, that has already made a jump-start to modernity and is attempting to, you know, institute, you know, real market reform to go forward. That's what I'm saying, not a country like Syria, that is somehow mired in the past.

VARNEY: You know, we often don't get a very clear picture of what everyday life is like in Iraqi cities.

As you walk around, or as you drive around, as you see the streets, are the shops full? Is there plenty of food available? Does it look like commerce is taking place?

DELARE: Oh, absolutely.

As you drive down the street, you can see there are open-air markets where there's plenty of food available of a great variety, the same kind of food that you would see in any of the other Gulf states or some of the Mediterranean countries. You see a lot of activity taking place on sidewalks, people selling building products, very importantly, selling building products. It is a growth industry here, as the country recovers.

VARNEY: What you are telling us here is pretty positive news. You are painting a positive picture. And that's not a picture that we hear very often in the media in the United States. And I'm wondering, why is it that, when you come up with a positive message, OK, albeit, just economically, financially, why is it that your positive image is so often dismissed as mere propaganda, and not put out at all? I mean, do you have an explanation for that?

DELARE: No, I really don't.

I think the media, in part, paints the picture they expect to find. Just recently, I noticed that even Al-Jazeera, or the French press agency, put out a couple of favorable articles on the state of the economy, whereas some of the American media took the same information and chose to focus on the continuation of violence -- same picture, different portrayal.

VARNEY: An interesting story, and a positive one. And we thank you very much for bringing it to us today.

Thomas Delare, U.S. minister counselor at the U.S. Embassy -- thank you very much, Ambassador.

DELARE: Thank you.

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