Analysis: Lights, petrol, schools and a theatre - morsels of hope in a dark city

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The Independent Online

President George Bush claimed yesterday that many of the success stories of America's occupation of Iraq were not being publicised and that "perceptions did not match the reality on the ground".

On a day when at least nine people were killed, Mr Bush said such attacks would not deflect his intention to rebuild Iraq: "[Americans] did not run from Germany and Japan following World War Two. We helped those countries become strong and decent and democratic societies that no longer waged war on America, and that's our mission in Iraq right now."

In recent days the President has complained that things that are going well in Iraq rarely make it through the media "filter". Now, a coordinated PR blitz is being led by the White House to counteract this.

With a Newsweek poll published last week showing that 56 per cent of Americans believe the US is spending too much money on Iraqi reconstruction and with President Bush seeking a further $87bn (£52bn) from Congress, the White House is keen to promote any successes in Iraq.

Areas in which the Americans claim success include education.Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator, has said that 22 universities and 43 institutes and colleges and almost all schools are now open.

Access to electricity has also improved with all 37 power stations operating and producing electricity at pre-war levels, although this is still less than is required for Iraq to function fully.However, for the first time since the fall of Baghdad, the lights were on in the capital for four consecutive days this week. Occupation officials say this is due to a combination of cooling temperatures, and that looting and sabotage at power plants have eased off.

Optimists also point to the establishment of the Iraqi Governing Council, and the establishment of a plethora of independent newspapers and television channels to replace the state-controlled institutions of the past.

Petrol is now officially sold for less than 10p a gallon, although most motorists avoid queues by buying it on the black market at a higher cost. The country's national theatre is due to open at the end of the month.

Mr Bush's supporters also point out that because many people are paid in US dollars rather than Iraqi dinars, they have had the opportunity to buy consumer goods that were previously unavailable to them. Throughout Baghdad there are now scores of small shops selling every conceivable electrical item from digital cameras to home electricity generators, to satellite dishes, previously only available to Saddam's elite.

The security situation is unstable, with looting, violent crime and random killings still out of control. But one indication of a possible improvement after the deployment of new police recruits is that the US army has shortened the nightly curfew by an hour.

More than 40,000 police are back on duty, including 7,000 in Baghdad, compared with none in the weeks after Saddam's fall.

Yet most people in Baghdad still do not dare to venture out after dark. Mr Bremer admitted last night that "much remains to be done to establish an acceptable security environment".