Gary Rust

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Iraqi elections approach

As national elections in Iraq draw near, here are a couple of reasons for optimism in that war-torn country:

Attacks down as Iraq election nears: Press reports from Iraq paint a grim picture of assassinations, bombings and overall security spinning out of control, fueling the notion that there's almost no chance that successful elections can be held at the end of this month.

But that's not what reporters in Iraq were told Jan. 5 by Maj. Gen. Peter Ghiarelli, who's the commanding officer for U.S. troops in Baghdad.

In comments covered by Fox News Channel's "Special Report with Brit Hume," Ghiarelli said rebel attacks in Baghdad have actually dropped in recent weeks.

The reason? U.S. forces have improved bomb-detection methods, and increasing numbers of roadside explosives and car bombs are being uncovered before they can be detonated.

"For every bomb that you've seen go off, I've found another one -- or have broken up a cell that is placing another one," the Baghdad commander told reporters in comments they mostly ignored.

"We're also finding a lot of the equipment that makes" car bombs.

Citing recent polling data that shows a substantial margin of Iraqis intend to vote in the election, Ghiarelli said he expects "a large turnout" in Sunni-dominated Baghdad.

A Lexis-Nexis search Thursday morning showed that no other news outlet was interested in reporting what the United State's top military man in Baghdad had to say.

-- NewsMax.com

More good news about Iraq:

Zogby International conducted a poll of 454 owners and managers of small and medium-size businesses in three cities: Baghdad, Irbil and Hilla. Seven in 10 Iraqi business leaders hold an optimistic out-look toward their country's future post-Saddam, while just one in 10 are pessimistic. These percentages hold up across the nation, though optimism jumps to eight in 10 in Hilla.

The vast majority of small and medium businesses in Iraq fall into the 10-employee to 20-employee category (64 percent), followed by 21 to 30 employees (10 percent) and less than 10 employees (8 percent). Irbil is a hub of smaller businesses, with three-quarters (73 percent) of small to medium-size businesses falling into the 10-employee to 20-employee range.

Baghdad, meanwhile, fosters a climate where medium-size businesses are more common than elsewhere, with one in 11 of businesses employing more than 40 people. Hilla, on the other hand, plays host to the largest proportion of businesses with fewer than 10 employees (18 percent).

Every area surveyed except Hilla has seen new hiring outpace downsizing since the Iraq war.

This is particularly brisk in Irbil, where twice the number of businesses say they have added employees than have lost employees (43 percent versus 22 percent). Capital expansion is planned at near-universal levels among Iraq's small and medium-size businesses, with 81 percent in Baghdad, 90 percent in Hilla and 89 percent in Irbil indicating they plan to grow their businesses' capital.

More than eight in 10 (82 percent) Iraqi business owners and managers believe Iraq's economy will grow over the next two years. Just one in 20 anticipate a recession. The optimism is nearly universal, with just 1 percent believing the economy will shrink. By a 6-to-1 (61 percent versus 10 percent) margin, Iraqis are bullish about the next six months' sales figures.

This feeling is most intense in Irbil, where a full 86 percent anticipate an increase in business sales. The margin drops to a still-strong 4-to-1 (47 percent versus 13 percent) in Baghdad. By a more than 2-to-1 margin (37 percent versus 17 percent), Iraqis anticipate employment will increase in the next six months. On the question of net revenue, Iraqi business managers are particularly bullish. Half anticipate an increase over the next six months, versus just one in 10 who expect a decline. Another three in 10 expect their net revenue to remain the same.

Nationwide, half of businesses in Iraq do not employ any women. Nearly as many (43 percent), however, do. In the capital city of Baghdad, more businesses employ women than not (49 percent versus 43 percent) while the ration of male-only work forces to mixed or all-female work forces is higher in Irbil and Hilla.

Only one in five Iraqi business operators believe their country's business environment has worsened since the fall of Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti. This attitude is most prevalent in Baghdad, but even there it fails to muster support from more than one in four business leaders-and is soundly rejected by a majority (54 percent).

Three-fourths of Iraqi business owners and managers believe that long term, the policy of the interim Iraqi government toward business will improve.

They split nearly evenly on whether this will be a substantial improvement or just somewhat an improvement. This dwarfs the one in 11 who anticipate government policy toward business to worsen.

Business leaders expressed satisfaction with the level of communication and support for business from the government.

A solid majority (86 percent) of Iraqi business operators believes opening Iraq to the international business community will improve their business, and are fairly passionate about the concept-half (50 percent) of those polled believe this will substantially improve their business. It is difficult to project a happy face on the outcome of the war for most Iraqis. They remain very hostile to the U.S. presence and skeptical of any democratic development in the country. But the results of this new poll at least suggest that many businesses continue to thrive amidst chaos, that money is being made as commerce flourishes.

Maybe there is hope after all. -- Excerpt from John Zogby


Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.