Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Iraq Reconstruction after the Da'ish: Does the international community realize what's at stake?

A Mosul street, July 2017
In August 1945, much of Europe lay in ruins. The Red Army occupied Eastern Europe and much of Germany.  Fearing that Europe’s instability would play into Soviet hands as it tried to extend its influence westward, the United States made one of the most important foreign policy decisions to date.  The Marshal Plan was credited with reconstructing Europe, preventing the spread of communism and creating a democratic and prosperous Western Europe. In Iraq, also devastated by a war, which began with the Dacish’s seizure of Mosul and one third of its territory.  Will the United States and the Western community step in to recreate a new Marshall Plan for Iraq?

What are the stakes in Iraq if the country can’t rebuild itself?  First, without the necessary funds, Iraq will not be able to find homes for over 2.5 million people displaced from their homes.  Second, the instability which will result from the inability of the Federal Government to rebuild the cities destroyed during the lengthy struggle with the Dacish will play into the hands of neighboring Iran, much as an unstable Europe would have benefited the USSR in post-WWII Germany. 

Finally, the inability to rebuild the homes, infrastructure and education systems of the predominantly Sunni Arab areas of north central Iraq will thwart Iraq’s efforts to make a meaningful transition to democracy.  This in turn will undermine hopes for democratization in other parts of the Arab world by allowing despots to argue that democracy is an alien form of governance.

Talk of the Marshall Plan was widespread after the toppling of Saddam Husayn’s regime in 2003.  Tragically, graft, corruption, lack of proper bidding for contracts and, most important of all, building projects which were inappropriate for Iraqi society and economy which had just emerged from the most punitive sanctions regime in modern history generated very little benefit.  Allowing political actors, many of whom returned from exile in Iran, to assume office, the United States assured that the Iraqi political system would be one based in sectarian identities and corruption and nepotism.

The argument can be raised that the amount of funds available during the implementation of the Marshall Plan during the late 1940s were more plentiful than they are today.  This argument is specious because the global economy is on the rebound and US allies in the European Union and in the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, are awash with large sovereign wealth funds.

Why would the European states contribute to Iraq’s rebuilding process?  The answer can be posed in one word: migrants?  Despite the internationalist worldview and generous and welcoming policies of many European countries, even Germany – the most receptive state – has tightened its immigration policies.  The right wing populist backlash to immigrants coming from the MENA region and Africa has created serious domestic problems for all European countries, both inside and outside the European Union.

Instability in the Sunni areas of north-central Iraq which the Dacish formerly controlled could entice Turkey to intervene using the need to protect Iraq's Turkmen population in the city of Kirkuk and elsewhere as an excuse.  NATO certainly doesn't want any more conflict with Turkey, a NATO member state, which would certainly be the outcome of its becoming involved in northern Iraq.

Why would Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States agree to invest large amounts of funds in rebuilding Iraq?  This question can be answered in one word: Syria.  Do the Saudis and the Gulf Arabs want to see the same type of failed state and extensive violence and destruction in Iraq as we are witnessing in Syria?  Hardly. 

But isn’t it true that Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states made limited financial pledges to Iraq at the February  8th International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq which was held in Kuwait?  
This is true but the US failed to actively coordinate its strategy at the conference with its NATO, EU and Japanese partners.  Further, this was the first reconstruction conference of its kind.  More can and will be held in the future.  The fact that conference was held in Kuwait was highly significant if we remember the horrors Saddam Husayn visited on Kuwait between the invasion of August 1990 and the expulsion of Iraqi forces in January 1991.  Nevertheless, the conference raised $30 billion of the $88-100 billion Iraq says it requires for rebuilding areas devastated by the war with the Dacish.

To the surprise of many, Iraqis, particularly students have been returning to the city to rebuild the University of Mosul and the city.  That many of these students are not originally from Mosul is all the more impressive.  What this suggests is that the most efficient use of reconstruction funds will need to involve a partnership between Baghdad and local municipalities.

Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi should begin by holding the Iraq equivalent of “town hall” meetings on Iraqi television which would allow those in need of housing, education, health care and other services to suggest how best areas which need reconstruction can be served.  A “bottom up” approach, especially if UNAMI or another international agency can monitor the distribution and expenditure of funds (a process sorely lacking under the US occupation as the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s reports so clearly demonstrated). 

Developing a process whereby citizens at the local level become directly involved in the rebuilding process would allow them to circumvent corrupt local officials – many of whom lost all their legitimacy by supporting the Dacish – and inject an sense of empowerment into communities which still feel marginalized and dejected by the trauma they have experienced.

With youth constituting 70% of Iraq’s population, Prime Minister al-Abadi could follow the example of President  Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  Roosevelt created organizations to employ youth and young professionals, such as the Farm Service Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Organizations like these could help stimulate a new sense of civic engagement in Iraq following the Dacish’s defeat.  These organizations could rebuild houses and health care clinics, repair school buildings and tutor young children who have no school to attend.