Response to How Not to Win Arab Hearts and Minds

Well it seems Arabs and westerners have at least one thing in common - neither of us trust our politicians or media. Maybe we are not so different. Here is a story with some spin on it from the positive side of the spectrum. It is hard to tell what is going on in Iraq when everyone has an agenda. I have never been so disappointed in the media as I have been during this war. Their biases -from both sides- have never been so obvious. Maybe it is a good thing as it has woken us up.


Influx of goods, cash puts Iraqis in buying mood Hoarded dollars, U.S.-paid wages go for once-unobtainable items

By Glen C. Carey
Special to USA TODAY

BAGHDAD -- When Massoud Mazouri learned that the U.S.-led coalition had ousted Saddam Hussein from power on April 9, he hurried to Baghdad from his home in northern Iraq to set up an electronics business.

Now the 28-year-old Kurdish merchant is selling televisions and satellite receivers at a brisk pace to gadget-starved shoppers. It's among the first signs that Iraq's larger economy is coming to life.

Iraq's new finance minister, Kamil Mubdir al-Gailani, announced sweeping economic changes this week that will allow foreign ownership of companies in every industry except oil and other natural resources. The 25-member Iraqi Governing Council hopes that Iraq's 24 million people will be an attractive market and workforce for global businesses willing to invest in the country.

But merchants such as Mazouri already are cashing in. Television sets, refrigerators and boxes of satellite receivers are stacked 10 feet high on the sidewalks of Baghdad's shopping districts. Shoppers who have waited for years to be able to spend their hoarded dollars are out in force.

''When I started in late April, I was receiving one container of DiStar goods per month,'' Mazouri says. ''Now, I am getting five to six containers.'' Each container holds about 270 television sets or 3,800 satellite receiver units. He says he is grossing $20,000 a day. ''All the sales are done in cash.''

There was plenty of pent-up demand. Sanctions imposed by the United Nations after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 kept a lot of goods out of the country. Before that, an eight-year war with Iran drained the life from Iraq's economy. For nearly 20 years, there was little to buy. And during three decades of rule by Saddam's Baath Party, virtually all companies were state-owned or state-controlled. In 2001, Iraq's gross domestic product was $27.9 billion, compared with $47.6 billion in 1980.

Since the collapse of Saddam's regime, police Officer Gailan Wahoudi, 31, has bought a new television, a refrigerator and an air conditioner. ''It is a new freedom I never had before,'' he says.

The buying spree has been helped by the suspension of customs duties, import taxes, licensing fees and similar surcharges for most goods entering and leaving the country. The U.S.-led coalition's order on June 7 that suspended such charges has made Iraq a virtual free-trade zone at least until the end of the year. The coalition authorities had little choice: Iraq lost its ability to adequately control its borders when Saddam's government collapsed. Immigration and customs controls are only now being restored.

For consumers, the bottom line is lower prices. A Samsung air conditioner that sold for $1,200 before the war is now half that price. The Iraqi Planning Ministry reports that home appliance prices are down 41% from their prewar prices; electronics are down 38%.

At Iraq's border with Jordan, trucks laden with used cars are lined up next to tractor-trailers piled high with boxes of televisions and other electronics. Merchandise also is being shipped in from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates through the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

Compact Opel automobiles are selling fast at the al-Safeer car dealership, says owner Hamid al-Najar, 34. A used one can be bought for $3,000. ''If we have 10 in stock, they are sold the same day,'' he says. ''People are paying cash only.'' The car is popular because it's relatively cheap and won't attract thieves like more expensive models. But imported BMWs, Mercedeses, Volkswagens and Japanese-made cars also are on display in the lot of al-Najar's dealership.

Under Saddam, only senior government employees, leaders of his ruling Baath Party and a few wealthy businessmen had enough money for anything but the essentials. Low-level government employees were cash-starved.

The U.S.-led provisional authority has increased salaries twice for government workers, spreading disposable income around. It is paying $150 million per month for salaries from $1.7 billion in Iraqi assets seized by the U.S. government at the time of the 1991 Gulf War, a coalition official says.

Louay Rasheed, 46, director of the Ministry of Planning's trade statistics department, says he made the equivalent of $15 a month before the war and now earns $400 a month.

Hassan al-Dinwani, 53, owner of al-Yussir Trading Shops in Baghdad's Karada neighborhood, says one of his new customers was a policeman. ''This was a surprise to me,'' he says. In the past, officers couldn't buy goods at his shop because their salaries were too low.

Iraqi police Lt. Raad Rasheed says his salary is now the equivalent of $275 a month, up from $25 before the war. ''My family is happy,'' he says. ''I am also more focused on my job because I no longer have to worry about money.''

Created By: Brendan H