Throughout the years of heaviest combat in the Iraq War, America's major broadcast and print media depicted the U.S. military effort as a misguided endeavor that was destined to accomplish nothing and to yield no lasting benefits. But in fact, even in those dark days of roadside bombings and terrorist ambushes, there were tangible signs that significant progress was being made in many areas of Iraqi life. On January 30, 2005, for example, Iraq held its first free elections in decades; voters across the country cast their ballots for candidates vying for seats in the new 275-member National Assembly, which was given a mandate to write the new and permanent Constitution of Iraq.
By May of 2005, the following indicators of Iraq's resuscitated viability as a sovereign state could be seen:
47 countries worldwide had re-established their embassies in Iraq;
1.2 million Iraqi people were employed by the country's new government;
3,100 schools had been renovated, and another 354 were under rehabilitation;
38 new schools had been built, and another 263 were under construction;
the Iraqi Police Service consisted of more than 55,000 fully trained and equipped police officers;
5 Police Academies nationwide were producing over 3,500 new officers every 8 weeks;
there were more than 1,100 major building projects underway in Iraq, including 364 schools, 67 public clinics, 15 hospitals, 83 railroad stations, 22 oil facilities, 93 water treatment facilities, and 69 electrical facilities;
96 percent of Iraqi children under the age of 5 had received polio vaccinations; and
the Baghdad Stock Exchange had been open for nearly a year.
In August of 2005 alone, more than 30,000 new business registrations were processed in Iraq; this figure does not include the additional start-up ventures that failed to comply with registration rules.
In September 2005, Iraq's oil revenues were higher than they had ever been in the nation's history. That same month, more than 3.5 million Iraqis were active subscribers to cell-phone services; by contrast, cell-phone service had not existed under Saddam Hussein's Baath regime, which made the mere possession of satellite telephones a capital offense.
Ordinary Iraqis were financially better off in November 2005 than they had been at any time in the previous two decades. According to estimates by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Iraq's per capita income had doubled since 2003. Moreover, the nation's per capita gross domestic product was almost twice that of Yemen and was nearly equal to that of Egypt and Syria.
As 2005 drew to a close, a multitude of reconstruction projects -- monitored by the Iraqi Contracting Office -- were underway thoughout Iraq: schools, electrical plants, family health centers, roads, sewer treatment facilities, water lines, and agricultural revitalization efforts. In many cases, Iraqis themselves were the ones doing this work. As blogger Bill Crawford put it, “Not since the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe has the world seen an effort as massive as the one now underway in Iraq.”
Meanwhile, the Iraqi people at large were optimistic about their country's future. A poll conducted by the Center for International Private Enterprise showed that 77 percent of Iraq’s business owners believed that the national economy would expand over the next 24 months; 69 percent had positive expectations for the future of Iraq’s economy generally.
170 independent newspapers were being published across Iraq;
80 independent television stations were broadcasting on a regular basis;
there were 168,000 Internet subscribers nationwide -- as compared to just 4,000 before the war;
8.7 million Iraqi children were enrolled in primary school;
on average, one new hospital was under construction every six months in Iraq;
the death rate in Iraq was half of what it had been under Saddam.
Also in December 2005, a major poll of Iraqis was conducted jointly by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, the Japanese television network NHK, and the German magazine Der Spiegel. The pollsters began their survey by asking, “Overall, how would you say things are going in your life these days — very good, quite good, quite bad or very bad?” Fully 71 percent of the respondents said "very good" or "quite good" — up from 55 percent in a poll taken in June 2004. By contrast, 29 percent said their lives were "quite bad" or "very bad" — down from 45 percent in 2004. Other results included the following:
61 percent reported that the security situation where they lived was "very good" or "quite good";
66 percent rated their protection from crime as "very good" or "quite good";
74 percent said local schools were "very good" or "quite good";
70 percent said their family’s economic situation was "very good" or "quite good"; and
the average monthly income of the respondents was $263 -- a 63 perent increase from the $164 figure of 2004.
The pollsters also asked: “From today’s perspective and all things considered, was it absolutely right, somewhat right, somewhat wrong or absolutely wrong that the U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in spring 2003?” Some 19 percent said the invasion was "absolutely right," and 28 percent said it was "somewhat right" — for a net positive result of 47 percent. Meanwhile, 17 percent said the invasion was "somewhat wrong," and 33 percent said it was "absolutely wrong" — for a net negative result of 50 percent.
In February 2006, a bomb attack on an important Shia shrine in Samarra unleashed a wave of sectarian violence in which hundreds of people lost their lives. In May and June of that year, an average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed nationwide.
On June 7, 2006, U.S. air forces killed the leader of Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in an air strike. In November, a jury found former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death. That same month, Iraq and Syria restored diplomatic relations after nearly a quarter century.
The high level of violence in Iraq continued, however; in one set of car bombings in the mostly Shia area of Sadr City in Baghdad, more than 200 civilians lost their lives. In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group issued a report describing the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating, and offering policy recommendations to President Bush.
In January 2007, Bush announced a new Iraq strategy -- a troop "surge" that would dispatch an additional 21,500 American soldiers in an effort to quell the insurgency in Iraq. This proved to be a monumentally important decision, whose effects finally enabled the U.S. to emerge victorious in the war. Prior to the surge, it had not been uncommon for 3,000 or more Iraqi civilians and security-force members to die at the hands of terrorist violence during any given month. By May 2008, the monthly mortality figure stood at 19, and it fluctuated between 7 and 25 deaths per month over the ensuing 14 months.
In negotiations over a new security agreement with Washington, in July 2008 Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the first time raised the prospect of setting a timetable for the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from his country. Two months later, American forces handed over control of the western province of Anbar -- once a stronghold for insurgent and Al Qaeda terrorists -- to the Iraqi government. This made Anbar the first Sunni province to be returned to to the Shia-led government.
In October 2008, Abu Qaswarah, Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq's second-in-command, was killed during a raid in the northern city of Mosul. The following month, the Iraqi parliament approved a security pact with the United States under which all American troops would be withdrawn from the country by the end of 2011.
In January 2009, Iraq took control of security in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone and assumed more authority over foreign troops based in the country. Prime Minister Maliki hailed the measure as an emblem of Iraq's "day of sovereignty."
In February 2009, the political bloc headed by Maliki scored big victories in provincial elections. In March, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that most American troops would be out of Iraq by the end of August 2010, and that all troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2011.