Published January 14, 2015
As many of you may know by now, we thought the ABC News program, "Nightline" (search), made a mistake by listing all the brave men and women who died in Iraq but without providing the context of what they died for. So we said that we would put together our own tribute, our own list of what these brave men and women have built in Iraq.
A couple of points before we begin. Some of you have written in saying that we're pushing the White House agenda. As you saw in the last segment, there are plenty of hard questions to ask about the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, and we will keep asking them.
There were also times this week when you couldn't help but wonder about putting on the good news from Iraq, as we saw those ugly pictures from inside Abu Gharib (search) prison. But the more we thought about it, what better time to talk about what the vast majority of our troops are doing there? What better time to try to make sense of the sacrifice of the 767 men and women who have died in Iraq?
We call our tribute, "What We've Accomplished."
First, ending the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. Ending the systematic torture and murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Since Saddam was overthrown, investigators have found dozens of mass graves, in which more than 300,000 Iraqis were buried.
Ending the theft of billions of dollars from the Iraqi people. Since 1991, Saddam built 48 palaces, at a time when his regime said it did not have the sources to build housing. And an investigation has found Saddam stole more than $11 billion from the U.N.'s oil-for-food program.
Ending the threat that weapons of mass destruction will be developed and used. Since the invasion, U.S. inspectors have not found WMD. But during its time in power, Saddam's regime manufactured chemical and biological weapons and, at one point, actively pursued nuclear weapons.
Second, quality of life. Daily life has improved dramatically for the average Iraqi since the fall of Saddam, but it has come at a cost. These three soldiers were killed last July while they guarded a hospital in Baquba.
Under the old regime, little money was spent on education and there was no schedule for maintaining school facilities. So far, 2,500 schools have been renovated, with another 800 to be finished soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They put in electricity for us and a fan for us so we could get some air, and I say thanks to god.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD (through translator): Before, the school was dirty and not clean, and even the bathroom was not good. This year they made a new bathroom for us, and they changed the building and painted it well.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
What children are learning in school has also changed. Before the war the government fired teachers for not following the party line. Almost 9 million new math and science textbooks have been printed and distributed. Old books were filled with pro-Saddam propaganda.
And here are U.S. troops handing out napsacks full of school supplies in Samarra. This just days after those four American contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated in Fallujah.
Major progress has also been made in health care. Under Saddam, the Ministry of Health spent $16 million a year. The current budget is almost $1 billion. The health care system is now open to all Iraqis, with 30 percent more people now using the facilities. Doctors, who used to get $20 a month, now earn up to $180. Modern medication such as cancer drugs are now available, something unheard of during the Saddam years.
Last Sunday, these five Navy Seabees were killed in the Sunni triangle while on assignment rebuilding schools and medical facilities for the Iraqis.
Third, human rights. Since the end of Saddam, a fully functioning legal and judicial system has been developed. More than 600 judges are working in courtrooms across the country. Iraqis charged with crimes now have rights that would have been laughed at under the old regime: the right to remain silent when they're arrested; the right to a fair, speedy and open trial; the right to a defense lawyer at all stages of the process.
Iraqis now enjoy freedom of speech. Street protests against the U.S. occupation are now routine in Baghdad, something that in the past would have earned these demonstrators imprisonment or death.
There is also something approaching freedom of the press. Under Saddam, all newspapers were controlled by the government. This woman was a reporter for 27 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Before, we write as they tell us to write. Now we write what we believe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Now, 120 papers are being published, some of them critical of the U.S. The coalition has shut down only two papers, which it said were inciting violence.
This is another sign of new freedom: Internet cafes. Before, few people had access to computers, fewer still to the government-monitored Internet. Now people can communicate, get information or sound off in Web blogs.
And here's more technology that was banned under Saddam Hussein: satellite dishes. Now more than one-third of Iraqi households receive news from around the world by way of these dishes.
Finally, the economy and infrastructure. There's a new currency in Iraq. Gone are those ever-present pictures of Saddam in a country that used to have two weak currencies, there is now one stable form of money.
Iraq's most important resource, oil, is showing a strong revival. Production now exceeds pre-war levels, averaging half a million barrels a day more than when Saddam was forced from power.
Still, gasoline shortages have meant that U.S. soldiers often have to guard filling stations to prevent looting. Private First Class Jason Wright from the 101st Airborne Division was killed by a drive-by shooter as he protected Iraqis who were buying gas.
One crucial area that has seen solid improvement is basic utilities. After years of neglect, Iraqis have electricity for only part of the day. By this summer, the average Iraqi will have electricity for 16 hours a day, 40 percent above pre-war levels. Under Saddam, only half of the country had access to clean drinking water. Now extensive renovations of water plants have brought cleaner water to more people, almost 15 million, on a more reliable basis.
Before the war, few areas had proper sewage facilities. One example of what soldiers are doing on the ground is in Mosul, where a neighborhood was swamped with raw sewage for 17 years. The U.S. Army spent $40,000 to hire local workers, and the problem is fixed.
Improvements in the infrastructure are widespread. Here are some key examples. Baghdad airport now has 43 passenger flights a day, including regular commercial service to Jordan.
And look at something as simple as phone service. Under Saddam, cell phones were a luxury, reserved only for top party and government officials. Now, more than 340,000 Iraqis have cell phones, and business is booming.
There's one other big difference: When Iraqis make a call now, they say no one is listening in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I call him now on the phone. Now we can discuss anything. We are not -- I am not afraid to say anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
As we struggled to put all of this together, we were astonished by all that our troops have accomplished. And we'll keep an eye out so we can update you on some of the ways our troops are making life better for so many Iraqis.