By NILES LATHEM
December 19, 2006 -- WASHINGTON - Iraq's economy is starting to blossom, providing an underreported success story for a war that has seen little else but bloodshed and chaos, according to a new report.
A story published on the Newsweek International Web site said that despite the sectarian violence and political chaos engulfing the country, there are signs that many sectors of Iraq's economy are healthy and growing.
Citing studies conducted by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the report said Iraq's economy grew 4 percent, by one account, and 17 percent, according to another.
The fact that Iraq's economy was able to grow at all is a major accomplishment - as well as what Newsweek called "the mother of all surprises."
Among the recent findings:
* Real estate, construction and retail sales industries are booming in Iraq.
* The number of registered companies in Iraq grew from 8,000 in 2003 to 34,000 this year.
* Iraq earned $41 billion in oil revenue this year.
U.S. officials cautioned that it's too early to call Iraq an economic miracle.
Unemployment remains at 30 to 50 percent throughout the country, and many experts believe that's contributing to the sense of despair among the population that is in part resulting in the violence.
Sources told The Post that the White House is considering proposals from U.S. military leaders to create an FDR-style public works/jobs program for Iraq as part of the new initiative that President Bush will unveil next month.
The report also said reduced customs restrictions and fees have made imported goods more accessible and affordable to many Iraqis.
Other studies showed a growth of almost 100 percent in salaries for those who have jobs.
And Iraqis have even had American-style tax cuts, the report said.