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.