Monday, April 30, 2018

Youth, Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development

Mr. Sherif Samy and Eric Davis
This past April 5th, the MA Program in Political Science – United Nations and Global Policy Studies (UNMA) held its second annual Rutgers Global Policy Roundtable at its partner institution, Marymount Manhattan College, in New York City.  The topic of this year’s Roundtable was Youth, Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development.  The project’s key question is: how can helping youth develop entrepreneurial ventures, which have a significant social impact, empower them and benefit their respective societies?

Project Goals
Using Egypt as a pilot study, the project seeks to empower youth in countries around the world by promoting their competence in social entrepreneurship. This effort will not only provide assistance for individual youth entrepreneurs, but develop a model for social entrepreneurship which can be applied in different regions of the world. “Youth social entrepreneurship” refers to a youth entrepreneurial venture which has, as part of its mission, the purpose of contributing to the betterment of the society in which it operates.
Mr. Sherif Samy answers a question at the Roundtable Panel
As was discussed at the Roundtable, the project entails the following processes. First, the project has identified a large number of successful social entrepreneurship ventures in Egypt and other countries in the MENA region.  Second, the project is developing a group of young Egyptian social entrepreneurs who will identify successful social entrepreneurial ventures in Egypt and serve as mentors to youth entrepreneurs.

Third, once identified, successful youth social entrepreneurs will be invited to present proposals in a competitive platform, based on a “shark-tank” model, or via international video conferencing, to potential investors in Egypt and the West who can help them improve and expand their enterprises. 
Finally, the project is raising funds from public and private funding sources to provide financing for the project in its start-up phase.

The project is intended to allow successful youth entrepreneurs to scale-up their ventures, initially through the aforementioned investments. We hope the initial investments will attract additional and ongoing domestic and foreign investment, particularly from the United States. To assist successful youth social entrepreneurs, we’re able to offer them access to a wide variety of patents developed by an engineering faculty member at Rutgers University at no cost.

An innovative aspect of the project is the creation of a website where youth social entrepreneurs can exchange information on their respective entrepreneurial ventures.  The ability to share information in a password protected section of the website is intended to allow youth entrepreneurs to benefit from the efforts of youth entrepreneurs elsewhere in the world. Using grant funding, the project will organize workshops in a variety of countries where youth can meet and generate a synergy from the exchange of information the United States and abroad to improve their ventures.
Roundtable panelists: Dr. Jay Pozenel, United Nations; Dr. Jennifer Mueller, Marymount Manhattan College;
Dr. Steven Adelkoff, Arrakis Development, LLC; Dr. Eric Garfunkel, Rutgers VP for International  and Global Affairs;
Dr. Tarek Saadawi, Director, CINT, CUNY; and Dr. Ghaidaa Hetou, CEO, iStrategic, LLC
Genesis of the project
Regarding the genesis of this initiative, earlier in my career, I conducted research on industrialization and economic development in Egypt.  My book, Challenging Colonialism: Bank Misr and Egyptian Industrialization, 1920-1941, was published and recently reissued by Princeton University Press.  This book, which has been translated into Arabic, led to an invitation for me to keynote a conference at Cairo University in November 2016 on reviving the private sector of the Egyptian economy (see details of the conference below).  

At the conference, I met Mr. Sherif Samy, one of the grandsons of Muhammad Talcat Harb, the founder of the Bank of Egypt (Bank Misr) in 1920.  The bank subsequently established 23 companies designed to challenge British and foreign domination of the Egyptian economy.  

The companies Talcat Harb founded include the Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving which is located in al-Mahalla al-Kubra in the center of the Egyptian Delta. It is still the world’s largest spinning, weaving, dying and bleaching complex for cotton textiles to this day. Among the other companies established by the Bank Misr is Egypt Air and the Misr Company for Theater and Film (Studio Misr) which began the process which made Egypt’s film industry the largest in the Middle East. 

The Roundtable was very fortunate to host Mr. Sherif Samy as its Keynote Speaker.  Mr. Samy is a prominent Egyptian entrepreneur who has served in financial capacities in countries throughout the world. A former director of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority, Mr. Samy is also actively involved in micro-finance in Egypt and is a strong advocate of youth social entrepreneurship.

Project rationale

Youth comprise a large demographic in many countries of the world, especially in LDCs. They comprise as  much as 70% of the population under the age of 30.  Often ignored by politicians, and lacking resources, much of their creative energy fails to find an outlet and is lost to their respective communities. Social entrepreneurship offers youth the opportunity to put their creativity to work and to contribute to what are, in many countries, stagnant public sector dominated economies.

Social entrepreneurship can also serve as a deterrent to extremism. Unfortunately, large numbers of youth lack hope in the future.  In some instances, such feelings have led youth to use their creative skills to promote violence and wreak havoc through participation in terrorist organizations, whether the so-called Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Shabab or al-Qacida. 

Social entrepreneurship can serve multiple functions. Not only can it empower youth by offering them employment and the ability to contribute economic value to their respective communities, but it can also offer youth an alternative to extremist narratives and ideologies.

Project activities
The website currently under development will be launched during the fall of 2018. The project is also developing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) entitled, “Youth, Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development,” which will made available to youth social entrepreneurs globally, and will be taught by the faculty of the UNMA, and other academic units at Rutgers University, beginning in the winter of 2019.

As mentioned previously, to identify social entrepreneurial ventures that would benefit from further investment, and possible technical assistance, we will evaluate proposals via “shark tank” models, or via international video conference meetings, during the late fall 2018. Because we have the necessary infrastructure in place, the first “shark tank” and/or video conference is likely to be held in Cairo, Egypt. All presentations by youth social entrepreneurs will be filmed and the successful projects will subsequently be presented to local investors in Egypt, the host country, and the United States.

The project anticipates dispersing investments to youth entrepreneurial ventures during late 2019. A Project Supervisory Council, comprised of representatives of Rutgers University, the business community in Egypt and the United States, and UN agency officials, will oversee the investment process. Assessment of the success of the investments will be conducted on an ongoing basis by the Project Supervisory Council.

For further information on this project, please contact Dr. Eric Davis, Director, MA Program in Political Science – United Nations and Global Policy Studies, and Professor of Political Science, at  

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Harvard symposium: Growing up in Contemporary Iraq

Dr. Kanan Makiya, the author, Dr. Joseph Sassoon and Sayed Hossein Qazwini
Recently I had the pleasure to attend the second annual symposium on Iraq sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.  As with the prior symposium held in March 2016, this event, organized by former Center Director, Roger Owen, and Dr. Muhamed Almaliky, Associate of Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, offered a heady stream of presentations. The theme, “Growing up in Contemporary Iraq,” focused on Iraqi youth and the impact of recent sociopolitical demographic on this oft ignored demographic.

The Harvard symposium raised the following question: Why has youth as a category of analysis been largely ignored in the politics of the Middle East?  In Iraq, and in most of the MENA region nation-states, youth constitute 70% of the population under the age of 30.  Unfortunately, the many authoritarian regimes which control most MENA states fear youth. 

The Arab Spring only reinforced this fear, leading to the ouster of leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In Syria, the political graffiti and peaceful demonstrations initiated by youth led to the start of a vicious civil war whose end is still not in sight.  Indeed, in March 2016, Iraqi youth were instrumental in the resignation of many corrupt ministers in the government.

After welcoming remarks by Roger Owen and Muhamed Almaliky, I began the day with my presentation, “How should we envision a Post-Dacish Iraq?”  I argued that answering this question involved a deeper understanding of 5 “critical junctures” which Iraq has faced over the past 50 years.  In other words, to ask about “post Dacish Iraq” assumes we know what Iraq was like prior to the rise of the IS when it seized one-third of Iraqi territory in 2014.

Iraq’s current challenges began with the 1979 coup in which Saddam Husayn seized power from Muhammad Hasan al-Bakr and imposed what the late Falih Abd al-Jabbar so aptly called the “family-party state (dawlat hizb al-usra). 

Followed by the September 1980 invasion of Iran, in response to continued verbal attacks on Saddam’s regime by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iraq entered a period of rising sectarian tensions.  “Persians” became associated with Iraq’s majority Shi a population whose loyalty was increasingly disparaged as the war dragged on.

The seizure of Kuwait in August 1990 and the Gulf War of 1991 represented the second critical juncture which was followed by the third, the Intifada of March 1990 which was suppressed by Saddam using helicopter gunships allowed to take to the air by the US.

The brutal United Nations sanctions regime, which lasted from 1991-2003, and caused the collapse of the national economy and education system, constitutes the third critical juncture. Saddam’s so-called “Faith Campaign,” launched under his sidekick, Izzat al-Duri in mid-1993, further strengthened sub-national identities, already weakened by Iraq’s severe economic decline.

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext that Saddam’s regime still possessed a substantial arsenal of chemical weapons.  Appointing a sectarian based Iraqi Governing Council in July 200-3 and handing Iraqi politics to a group of sectarian entrepreneurs, or carpetbaggers, who lacked any commitment to building democracy, only undermined Iraqi nationalism still further.

The final critical juncture occurred with the Dacish’s seizure of Mosul and two thirds of Iraqi territory in 2014.  The humiliation of the Iraqi Army in Mosul and Iraq’s north central provinces underscored the corruption and sectarianism of the Iraqi government at the time under the leadership of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The killing of large numbers of Shica troops at Camp Speicher and the formation irregular militias, many of whom were loyal to Iran, only added to the sectarian flavor of Iraqi politics.

Thus to speak of a post-Dacish Iraq has little meaning without consideration of the cumulative effect of a long historical trajectory of events which had serious negative impact on Iraq. The most damaging impact was to erode a sense of “Iraqiness” which crossed the lines of ethnicity and sect.

The key factor I emphasized in all these critical junctures was that they do not prove the hypothesis of a sectarian Iraq.  Quite the opposite is the case. Each decision which produced a serious consequences was made by a small political elite.

Whether the decision by Saddam Husayn and his immediate circle of cronies to invade Iran and later seize Kuwait, or decisions by exogenous forces, such as the George H.W. Bush's administration to expel Iraq from Kuwait in January 1991 and impose UN sanctions, or George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraqi in 2003,or Iran’s efforts to take political advantage of the militias formed in 2014 which it funded and controlled, the domestic populaces were excluded.

In all critical junctures, the Iraqi people had little or no say.  As I noted in my presentation, an important part of the civic education of Iraqi youth is to inculcate them with the understanding that destructive political leadership, not some inherent “flaw,” namely sectarianism, is the cause of the problems Iraqi faces today. 

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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Iraq after the May 2018 Elections: Building Democracy or Becoming an Iranian Satellite?

Who will win the elections for Iraq’s Council of Deputies (national parliament) on May 12th?  Will the current prime minister, Haydar al-Abadi, be returned to office for a full 4 year term or will he be defeated?  Who are his main competitors?  Why is this election so important for the future of building a democratic Iraqi nation-state?

The recent defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and neighboring Syria represents an important step forward.  Among Iraqis, especially in Arab areas of the country, it has created a sense of positive momentum of which Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi has been the beneficiary. The Iraqi Army’s professionalism and non-sectarian behavior during the campaign against the Dacish, especially that shown by its US trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), earned the respect of many Sunni Arabs and has worked to tamp down sectarian feeling nationally.
Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi
At the same time, Prime Minister al-Abadi weathered a difficult period this past fall after the ill-fated September 25rd KRG referendum which asked Iraq’s Kurds whether they wanted to leave Iraq and form an independent nation-state.  The referendum, the product of political maneuvering by ex-KRG president, Masoud Barzani, passed by a large margin (although many Kurds chose not to vote) and seemed to pose a major threat to Iraq’s unity.

However, fissures between the two main  Kurdish political parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), allowed Federal Government forces to reoccupy territories seized by the KRG’s Pesh Merga forces after they were abandoned by the national army in 2014, following the Dacish seizure of Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq. 
Former KGR president, Masoud Bazani
The loss of these areas, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, deprived the KRG of 30% of its oil revenues.  While precipitating a major crisis with the KRG, Abadi’s popularity also benefited from the return of territories which Arab Iraqis felt had been unlawfully seized by the Pesh Merga in 2014.  Abadi came to be seen as a strong leader who prevented the dissolution of Iraq.

Still, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), or al-Hashad al-Shacbi, formed after the Iraqi Army collapsed in Mosul and the north in June 2014, also benefited from the defeat of the Dacish.  Not only did the 40 odd militias celebrate their victories over terrorist forces, but the 3 most powerful strengthened their ties to Iran.  In effect, the Badr Organization, led by Hadi al-Amiri, a highly popular and known among some Shica as “shaykh al-mujahidin,” the Kata’ib Hizballah (Hizballah Brigades), led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and the League of the Righteous People, led by Qa’is al-Khazzali, have become military and political arms of the Iranian regime in Iraq.

Equally important is the extensive political organization which the PMUs have created, especially in the southern Shica majority provinces of Iraq. Having been able to offer poor youth employment, the PMUs are revered not only for their military prowess (which is not always deserved), but for the economic resources which they have delivered to marginalized Shica communities.  This dual reputation will serve the many PMU candidates well who will run for parliamentary office.
Hashad leaders Qa'is al-Khazzali, Hadi al-Amiri & Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
The PMUs have benefited from funds obtained from Prime Minister al-Abadi’s office. Because these funds were distributed to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Deputy Head of the PMU coalition, he has been able to build an extensive patronage network. These public monies have reduced the pressure on Iran to fund those militias which support its policies in Iraq. Thus there will be strong pressure during the election campaign, which is now in full swing, to maintain Federal Government funding of the PMUs, thereby attracting votes for PMU candidates from the unemployed and underemployed who rely on PMU largesse.

How does Hayder al-Abadi fare in this political equation?  How can he strengthen his position in the forthcoming national elections?  His best move is to focus on winning the election not only by emphasizing democracy in the abstract, namely individual freedoms, fair elections, and transparent and accountable governance, but by stressing job creation and the rebuilding of Iraqi towns and villages destroyed in the war against the Dacish. In other words, he must emphasize social democracy, which will provide jobs, such as construction work, for large numbers of currently unemployed Shica youth, the main constituency of the PMUs.

What type of a coalition can Abadi build in confronting the PMUs?  He must mobilize four different constituencies to have any hope of winning a full term as Iraqi prime minister.  First, he needs to develop solid support among the secular middle classes, Shica Sunni and Kurd.  He can accomplish this end through promising to fight corruption and nepotism, and offer transparent and accountable governance.  Personal freedoms must also be part of his message.  Above all, he needs to emphasize that he will combat sectarianism in favor of an Iraqi nationalism which is tolerant and inclusive of all Iraq’s diverse religious and ethnic communities.  
Rebuilding the city of Mosul

Second, he must reach out to the poor and unemployed.  Here success at the February 12-14 Kuwait International Conference of Iraq Reconstruction and Development, which seeks to raise $100 billion in international funds for rebuilding regions destroyed in the war against the Dacish, will be critical to this effort.  If Abadi can mobilize resources to rebuild the damaged and destroyed towns and cities, formerly under control of the Dacish, then myriad construction jobs will become available.  

Here the United States can play an important role in encouraging Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states to open their pocketbooks and contribute handsomely to Iraq.  These US allies should also be encouraged to invest in Iraq, thereby earning profits and not just distributing financial largesse.  Saudi Arabia has already reopened its border with Iraq and committed large amounts of funds which it will invest in the Iraqi economy. 

The message here to Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf: a prosperous Iraq will be a bulwark against the rise of new terrorist organizations and Iranian interference in Iraq’s internal affairs. A prosperous Iraq, whose government is cross-ethnic and cross-sect will prevent the rise of Shica sectarianism which Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states see as a threat to their internal security, given the large populations of Shica in the Saudi kingdom and the Arab Gulf states.

In the rebuilding process, Abadi could draw upon the United States’ experience during the Great Depression when the Roosevelt administration's Neal Deal developed the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which put millions of Americans to work developing the national infrastructure, constructing buildings, engaging in reforestation and expanding national parks and contributing to many other areas of the US economy.
Muslim women repairing Christian monastery in Mosul desecrated by IS
Muslim men repairing the monastery
In Iraq, unemployed Shica could work in the north with Sunnis to rebuild communities, schools, hospitals, roads and municipal water and sewer systems.  This idea of Shica and Sunnis working side by side is not a new idea because Iraqi unions during the 1930s through the early 1960s – before they were suppressed by the first Bacth Party regime which came to power in 1963 - were characterized by their multi-ethnic and multi-religious membership.  Indeed, university students from many parts of Iraq have already traveled to Mosul to help the citizens of the city rebuild their famous university, city schools and other municipal institutions.
Lt. General cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacdi, CTS commander
A third constituency Abadi needs to attract is the security forces.  The CTS, and Federal Police, which fought the Dacish so effectively, are highly professional, having received excellent training from the US army.  As one of the top commanders of the CTS, Lt. General cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacdi stated, there is “zero tolerance” for sectarianism in his units.  The loyalty of this segment of Iraqi society will be critical to Abadi’s efforts, if reelected, to further professionalizing the Federal Iraqi Army.

The United States military, which played a central role in retraining the Iraqi Army after its rout by the Dacish in 2014, thereby enabling it to defeat the terrorists, needs to remain engaged in  further training and professionalization of the Iraqi armed forces.  An important dimension of this training, which is often overlooked, is that professionalism is indirectly correlated with sectarianism.  A non-sectarian Iraqi Army is key to circumscribing the political and military influence of PMU sectarianism.
Muqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi
There are two cleavages in Iraqi politics from which the prime minister can benefit.  First, the popular cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, is vociferously anti-Tehran and pro-Arab.  While his Saraya al-Salam brigades haven’t gained as much legitimacy from fighting the Dacish, his long term commitment to Iraq’s poor and the social services his organization has provided to the residents of Sadr City (formerly Revolution City) – the most densely populated quarter of Baghdad – has earned him enormous legitimacy among the Shica poor.

Sadr was angered by Abadi’s efforts to form a coalition with the PMUs earlier this month in an effort to demonstrate that the prime minister does not oppose them and seeks to rule through a broad political coalition.  The outcry among Abadi’s supporters was such that the still born political alliance crumbled in a day as the 3 dominant militias withdrew from Abadi’s al-Nasr (Victory) coalition.

Finally, Abadi must convince the Kurds that they are truly equal citizens in a federated Iraqi nation-state.  The Kurds need to see a sincere effort on Abadi’s part to offer them a role in Iraq which will offset the desire to form an independent nation-state of their own, one which most Kurds now agree isn’t economically viable.  The Kurds fear Iran and their local agents in Iraq especially the “Big 3” PMUs - the Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous People and the Kata'ib Hizballah.  In this sense, the Kurds' “natural political home” is in an Abadi government, especially if he appoints Kurds to a number of important ministries and military positions.

Another cleavage from which Abadi benefits is the hostility large numbers of Iraqi Shica feel towards former prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, whose ultrta-sectyarian policies enabled the Dacish to seize  Mosul and large portions of north central Iraq and to carry out the horrors of the Camp Speicher massacre where 1500 Shica troops were summarily executed by the terrorist organization.  When Maliki has tried to deliver speeches in cities in the south – such as Karbala’ and Basra – he has literally been forced to leave the podium given the anger of the crowd.

Nevertheless, Maliki seeks a comeback.  His strategy is to try and ride the wave of the PMUs should they receive a large number of votes and hence seats in the new Council of Deputies.  This prospect represents a long shot, but Maliki could potentially become the PMU candidate for prime minister in light of the common bond the 3 main PMUs and he share through their ties to and financial support from Tehran.

General cAbd al-Karim Qasim
Not only is Abadi popular for defeating the Dacish and liberating Iraqi territory, but he possesses a quality which almost no Iraqi leaders before him have enjoyed, namely trust.  Aside from  cAbd al-Karim Qasim, who ruled from 1958-1963, and, to a lesser extent, King Faysal I, who ruled from independence in 1921-1933, Iraq has never had a political leader who the populace feels is working on their behalf.  (Among Iraq’s Kurds, Mulla Mustapha Barzani certainly enjoyed that status).  

In light of the track record of failed Iraqi political leaders since independence in 1921, the election of Haydar al-Abadi as prime minister next May is vital for Iraq and the surrounding region. Unlike Faysal I or Qasim, Abadi’s authority did not originate as a result of colonial control of Iraq or a military coup d’état.  To have a democratically elected, highly educated, non-sectarian and civically minded leader of Iraq is essential if the country is to transcend the trauma brought on by scars the Dacish left on large segments of the country's population.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Post-Da'ish Iraq: A Vision for 2018 ما بعد الداعش العراق: رؤية لعام 2018

Ziggurat of Ur
Iraq is facing a critical juncture.  Having decisively defeated the Dacish, and maintained its territorial integrity, Iraqis – at least its Arab citizens – face a New Year with great hopes that their country may have finally turned the corner after all the problems it has faced since 2003.  Nevertheless, Iraq faces enormous challenges in 2018.  How can these challenges be addressed?

Displaced persons  First and foremost, Iraq needs to find homes and jobs for those Iraqis who were displaced by the war to rid the country of the Dacish terrorist organization.  Schools, hospitals and other municipal services need to be restored.  To date, progress in solving these problems has been slow.  Funds - and not a small amount of politics and corruption - has impeded progress.

How can Iraq cover the huge costs which  are needed to create some semblance of normality for displaced communities in area formerly controlled by the Dacish, especially in light of declining oil prices?  One avenue to explore is working with Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Arab Gulf states to raise the necessary funds.

If the Saudis would provide its own funds and bring in those from the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps smaller amounts from Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, these funds could be used to hire contractors to speed up the process of rebuilding that is desperately need in al-Anbar, Ninawa and Salahidin provinces.  Over 4.5 million people have been displaced and are not enjoying anything resembling normal living conditions.

What could Iraq offer the KSA and Gulf states in return?  First, it could open its markets to larger amounts of investments from the KSA an d the Gulf.  Second, it could offer technical help by offering to provide hundreds of Iraqi engineers, scientists, academics and school teachers to help the KSA with its new reform program and other Gulf states with projects requiring technical expertise.

The most powerful argument Iraq could make to its Gulf state partners is that the failure to rebuild the north central region of Iraq could pave the way for resurgence of the Dacish and other terrorist organizations.  Such resurgence could inspire youth in the KSA and the Arab Gulf to become attracted to extremism.  It also could be argued that the rise of terrorist groups in north central Iraq would provide the excuse for meddling in Iraq’s domestic politics by Iran using local militias which it presently funds.

Federalism In second order of importance is reconciling the differences between the Federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).  Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi may be posturing in public with tough conditions for negotiating with the KRG, but this need not be the negotiating strategy in private meetings with Kurdish leaders.. 

In private negotiations, al-Abadi and his team should strive to cut an equitable deal with the KRG.  The Iraqi prime minister  should offer as gracious a settlement as possible which could then be implemented in stages after the spring 2018 national elections.  In return for the KRG agreeing to remain within a federated political system, al-Abadi should offer conditions under which the Kurds could feel more comfortable with local cultural autonomy.

Of course, the most thorny issues remain the distribution of oil revenues and the disputed territories.  Here UNAMI, which has already conducted a study of the disputed territories, might be of help as could other impartial international arbiters who could assist the 2 parties in concluding a mutually acceptable national oil law.

An especially important negotiating position would be to give the KRG a more central role in Iraq’s national army.  If the Kurds could feel that they are true partners in the Iraqi military, then gradually the Pesh Merga could transition to a local gendarmerie, on the mode of the Italian carabinieri, which could then play the role of a regional police force in the KRG.

Creating a joint command of units controlled by a Kurd and non-Kurdish commander would provide greater interaction between Kurdish and non-Kurdish troops.  This model already existed in Saddam’s conscript army prior to 1991.  In conversations with former Kurdish members of the conscript army, all officers and conscripts with whom I spoke indicated that cordial relations existed among all sects and ethnicities.
Let’s not forget that, although he often was sidelined by former PM Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Army’s Commander-in-Chief between 2004 and 2015 was Babakir Shawkat Zebari, a Kurd. Indeed, Kurdish officers have always been part of the Iraqi Army.  General Bakr Sidqi al-Askari, and a Kurd, led (unfortunately) the first military coup in the post-WWI Arab world in 1936.
Iraqi Commander-in-Chief Babakir Zebari meets Gen Martin Dempsey 2014
Minorities and national reconciliation A key item on Iraq’s 2018 political and social agenda is national reconciliation.  Among the most important areas which need to be addressed are the attempted genocide of a number of Iraq’s minority groups, especially the Yazidi, Assyrian and Shabak minorities.

Because many members of these minority groups believe that their Arab neighbors had a role in betraying them to the Dacish, to obtain economic and political benefits, the process of rebuilding trust among the ethnic mosaic of north central Iraq will be a long and painful process.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shica al-marjaciya, Sunni religious clerics and the Shica and Sunni waqf (religious) endowments should be in the forefront of this process.  Respected tribal confederation leaders might also be asked to contribute to the national reconciliation process, especially in light of the fact that virtually all Iraqi tribes having Shicand Sunni clans and share many social and cultural characteristics with Kurdish tribes as well.
Excellent assistance could be offered by the UNESCO Chair for Islamic Inter-Faith Dialogue Studies, co-chaired by Sayyid Jawad al-Khoei, director of the al-Khoei Institute in al-Najaf, and Dr. Hassan Nadhem, professor of Islamic History at the University of Kufa, which has worked diligently over the past several years to promote dialogue, understanding and tolerance among Iraq’s many religious groups and ethnicities, including Iraqi youth

The Iraqi government should devote considerable air time on national television channels, in social media, and in regional workshops and conferences to discuss what occurred during the occupation of what was, at one point, a third of Iraq by the so-called Islamic State.  Honest discussions are essential if this process is to be successful.  Most important is for all groups to be able to deliver their narratives and for other groups to respect these narratives by listening to them and developing empathy for what they have suffered.

With help from UN agencies and international NGOs specializing in transitional justice and conflict resolution, using Rwanda, Argentina and South Africa as case studies, the Iraqi government needs to develop a comprehensive approach which is sensitive to the raw emotions which still  characterize those groups who suffered most under the Dacish’s oppressive rule.

The Iraqi military and non-state militias  One of the great success of 2017 was the Iraqi Army’s stellar performance in defeating the Dacish in Mosul and throughout Iraq , together with the Pesh Merga and the Federal Police.  The Iraqi Army benefited greatly from training by US forces and has emerged as a highly professional force. 

Although many excellent officers contributed to the defeat of the Dacish, Lt. Gen. cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacdi, Mosul commander of the elite Golden Brigade – part of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service, also known as the “Golden Division,” has become a national hero.  His statement that the CTS has “zero tolerance” for sectarianism is emblematic of a mindset which is necessary if Iraq is to continue to defeat extremist forces within its borders.
Lt. Gen. cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacdi
Now that the Dacish has been soundly defeated, it is time for the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) or al-Hashad al-Shacbi to be disbanded.  Many PMUs have voluntarily disbanded, but the 3 which are funded by and loyal to Iran – the Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous People and the Hizballah Brigades – refuse to turn over their weapons and join the Iraqi Army.

This trifecta of rogue militias represents a danger to Iraq.  First, it is loyal to Iran first and only secondarily to PM Hayder al-Abadi, the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces.  Second, Iran has plans to use the PMUs to fight its battles in Syria to protect Bashar al-Asad's tyrannical regime.  Third, the Tehran regime seeks to create a larger military alliance between the PMUs, Lebanon’s Hizballah and the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Forces.

According to the fatwa which Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued calling upon Iraqis to mobilize to fight the so-called Islamic State after it seized the city of Mosul in June 2014, this military effort was only to be temporary.  However, once PMUs were created, providing employment and steady salaries for its young members, many have now refused to disband.

It would be appropriate if Sayyid al-Sistani issued a new fatwa requiring militias to either disband or have their members to apply for positions in the Iraqi Army or national police forces.  Disbanding of al-Hashad al-Shacbi would constitute an important step.

Diversification of the economy Over 50 years have passed since the steep rise in oil prices between 1972 and 1980 consolidated Iraq’s position as a “rentier state.”  As industrial production becomes more efficient in the advanced industrialized countries, as China confronts its environmental crisis by promoting electric automobiles and solar power, and as Green Energy becomes ever more economically viable, the demand for carbon based fuels will decline.  It behooves Iraq to vigorously move towards diversifying its economy.

Solar energy represents one area which Iraq has yet to develop. Using such energy to provide farmers with better access to water through more efficient pumps would help reduce a stagnant agrarian sector.  Solar energy could provide an inexpensive method to tackle Iraq’s continuing  problem of providing sufficient energy to its citizenry especially in the port city of Basra and southern Iraq where temperatures are brutal during the summer months.

The Prime Minister’s Office could create a special government unit to promote small business in Iraq.  This office could work with appropriate ministries to offer small loans and technical assistance to foster the success of new enterprises.  Iraqi television could be used to disseminate publicity about contests for new start-ups to foster economic diversification.  Winners of the contests would see their entrepreneurial spirit rewarded with grants to help jump-start their new businesses.

Women’s empowerment Apart from all citizens having equal rights under the constitution and national laws, there is another compelling reason why women need to be taken more seriously by the Federal Government.  An estimated 60-65% of the Iraqi population is comprised of women.  Many did not receive an adequate education during the UN imposed sanctions regime of the 1990s and after 2003.

The exclusion of women from much of the Iraqi work force and the lack of opportunities for them to express themselves in entrepreneurial ventures constitute a huge waste of human resources.  The International Labour Office (ILO) estimated in 2015 that the ratio  of male to female workers in Iraq was 21.65%, far below an optimal situation for the Iraqi economy.

While Iraqi universities are filled with women students – in  many the majority of students are female – the higher education of women has not translated into contributing to the Iraqi economy in the way which it could were the necessary institutional incentives in place for that to occur. It does not make sense for the state to educate women who then fail to use the skills which they have because they spend most of their time in the household.

Once again, women should be offered funds to establish their own entrepreneurial ventures and NGOs designed to bring more women into the workforce.  This effort would require more child care facilities which would not only facilitate female employment but create more jobs.

Youth As in much of the MENA region, youth constitute 70% of the population under the age of 30.  As with Iraq’s female population, youth are likewise a vastly under utilized national resource.  At the MA Program in Political Science – United nations and Global Policy Studies at Rutgers University, we are working to develop an international project to encourage youth social entrepreneurship in the MENA and other regions of the non-Western world.

As a country in which national public surveys continually demonstrate  a high degree of entrepreneurial consciousness, Iraqis continue a tradition which began with extensive production and trade of goods in ancient Mesopotamia.  Indeed, one of the reasons that led ancient Iraq to develop the world’s first language, cuneiform, was for merchants to be able to keep track of the goods which they had sent to the far reaches of the Fertile Crescent and what is today Iran.

Tourism Iraq has huge tourist resources which derive from is ancient civilizations, the Abbasid Empire, and as the global center of Shiism.  The tourist sector provides the opportunity for Arabs and Kurds to cooperate in bringing tourists to Iraq, thereby further diversifying the national economy.
Baghdad's al-Mutanabbi St., known for its bookshops and coffee houses

The Erbil Citadel
The Erbil Citadel, arguably the oldest continuously inhabited urban space in the world, ancient Babylon, the ruins of Ctesiphon, Baghdad's al-Mutanabbi Street with its many bookstores and coffee houses, the unique marshes above the Shatt al-cArab at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the tome of the Prophet Eliezer (the Muslim Prophet Dhu al-Kifl) are just a few of the sites which can be used to create national tours including the northern and southern regions of Iraq.
A courtyard in the Erbil Citadel

The Federal Government could work with the KRG to develop a skiing industry in the beautiful Kurdish mountains (think of Mt. Zozak). Summer youth camps can bring Arab and Kurdish youth to the north for educational, inert-cultural and sports activities.

These suggested policy initiatives require considerable thought and none will be easy to implement. However, without a well-articulated plan for the future, the Federal Government will squander the political capital it has amassed with the defeat of  the Dacish.