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“Resurrecting Eden”

Posted on the 26 July 2011 by Center For International Private Enterprise @CIPEglobal

Last Sunday on 60 Minutes, anchor Scott Pelley took viewers back with him to 2009 when he visited the region of Iraq that many biblical scholars say inspired the stories of creation and the Garden of Eden. In Pelley’s words, it was a place Saddam Hussein deployed his greatest weapons of mass destruction – six giant canals that diverted 90 percent of the water from the former lush marshlands. It is a place where people and businesses are returning to restore their lives and livelihoods.

As profiled in the 60 Minutes story, Azzam Alwash and his family were one of the many that returned to the marshes, though in Alwash’s case he returned after 25 years in America where he went to college to become an engineer. His business happens to be to restore the marshes to their former glory. He returned in 2003, after U.S. forces had removed Saddam Hussein from power, and since then his company has helped restore 50 percent of the marshes.

Life in the marshes revolves around the reeds. Families build their homes with them, feed them to their livestock, and even expand their islands with reed mats that catch sediment. Pelley and Alwash come across a reed market on their tour through the marshes, the kind of market that has operated in the area for millennia. As these markets return, how the new Iraqi democracy will interact with them and with all small or unregistered businesses remains a major question mark.

According to CIPE’s recent survey of 900 Iraqi businesses across nine cities, including registered and unregistered businesses, perceptions of Iraqi administrative officials lean toward skeptical or even cynical, though overall business sentiment remains optimistic.

If you’re only looking at headlines or stock footage of foreign troops leaving and Iraqi security forces struggling to take over, that optimism may seem strange.

If you’re down in the would-be Garden of Eden, that optimism seems well-placed.

For full results from the survey, RSVP here to attend this Thursday’s launch event from 2:30-4:00 p.m. on Capitol Hill, or follow along on Twitter as CIPE live tweets the event using hashtag #IraqBizViews.

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