The World, not just America, is responsible for Iraq

Iraq’s economic and humanitarian recovery cannot succeed so long as its political conundrums remain inadequately addressed by the international community.
Ali Al-Mawlawi
8 September 2010

Later this month, world leaders will gather in New York to discuss the progress made towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). With just over five years remaining before the 2015 global deadline, the UN has doubled its efforts to engage governments and civil society activists in order to address the remaining challenges ahead of the upcoming MDG Summit. 

Last month, the Iraqi government and the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) released a joint report outlining Iraq’s progress towards achieving the MDGs and highlighting significant shortfalls. The report claims that although major gains have been made in reducing hunger, child mortality and promoting gender equality, Iraq has been slow in meeting other targets, including increasing participation in primary education and tackling unemployment. 

While Iraq is on track to achieve gender parity in education, primary school enrolment is only 77% compared to 92% in neighbouring Turkey. Youth unemployment is now double the national average of 15% and an assessment of its health targets has yielded mixed results. Measles vaccination coverage has jumped from 70% in 2007 to over 90% in 2009 and malaria has been almost completely eliminated, with no indigenous cases reported in 2009 compared to over 39,000 cases in 1995. But while infant mortality continues to fall, it is still among the highest in the region.

The report is particular brief on MDG-8, which calls for the need to develop global partnerships in development by easing market access in trade, tackling debt relief and sharing new technologies. It only cites improvements in access to telecommunications technology and fails to address the need for a concerted international effort to address development in Iraq.

Along similar lines, UNAMI signed a Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) with the Iraqi government in May this year, outlining a coordinated strategy for the delivery of UN assistance over the next five years to ensure that Iraq meets its obligations toward the MDGs. While the plan prioritises the need to strengthen governance and economic growth through anti-corruption and public sector modernisation programmes, it crucially avoids addressing the effect of external forces that continue to hamper development in Iraq.

The importance of Iraq’s reintegration into the international community cannot be overstated. Following a decade of isolation and many more years of recklessness by a dictatorial regime, Iraqis find themselves unable to rebuild their country without the expertise of the international community, for two main reasons: Firstly, the brain drain that resulted from the exodus of thousands of professionals forced into political exile during Saddam’s reign, and the subsequent deterioration of the basic infrastructure following the sanctions, means that Iraq needs foreign investment to successfully rebuild the country.

Secondly, and more crucially, Iraq’s political and economic problems are still very much a function of a power balancing game orchestrated by foreign actors. The six months of wrangling between Iraq’s competing political blocs since the parliamentary elections in March, may seem at first glance, to be entirely the fault of bickering Iraqi political elites, but it is in fact symptomatic of the effect of Iraq’s neighbours on party political agendas that have strayed from the national interest.  

The effect on negotiations to form the next government was bizarrely illustrated shortly after the final election results were announced, when nearly all the major political figures (interestingly, with the exception of the prime minister) frantically made whistle-stop tours of the region, in a bid to pitch their visions of the new government to potential backers.  It saw some of the most unlikely bedfellows come together, with the Iranian-backed Supreme Council making an unprecedented visit to Riyadh to meet King Abdullah, while Ayad Allawi’s secular list sat down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran. This gave the impression that Iraq’s politicians were more concerned with the blessings of foreign governments than their own electorate, which did not go down too well with the Iraqi public.

Contrary to what some politicians and policymakers have suggested, rather than stepping in to mediate between Iraq’s deadlocked political blocs, the UN Security Council can play a constructive role by both curbing the external influence of foreign interests on Iraq, and strengthening the country’s sovereignty from within.

The five permanent members of the Security Council, along with other influential member states, can use their diplomatic leverage to pressure Iraq’s neighbours into halting the flow of cash to Iraqi political parties, and instead to focus on combating the flow of terrorists and arms across their borders.

Also, by helping to strengthen Iraq internally, Iraq can resist the pressures of foreign actors. Seven and a half years after the fall of Saddam’s regime, Iraq remains under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – a status reserved for pariah states that pose a threat to international peace and security.  This has restricted Iraq’s efforts to equip the army to protect its borders and to import certain chemicals and other goods, despite the fact that it has ratified several peace conventions

Chapter VII has also maintained Iraq’s burden of debt, which continues to stunt Iraq’s economic recovery. 5% of total oil revenues go to Kuwait in compensation for Iraq’s invasion two decades ago. Iraq has already paid $30 billion and it still owes over $22 billion. These funds could go a long way towards achieving Iraq’s MDG targets by investing in its war-torn infrastructure and raising living standards.

Iraq has border disputes with Iran over the Shatt Al-Arab waterway, and potential revenue is being lost due to unresolved issues surrounding the ownership of shared oil fields with its neighbours. And as Turkey continues to restrict the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Iraq is on the verge of a water crisis that could once and for all shatter any hope of rehabilitating its agricultural sector.

All of these problems require international solutions. Many around the world have criticised President Obama’s Iraq policy, arguing that it amounts to an irresponsible withdrawal at a critical time for Iraq. But what is more worrying is the view that success in Iraq is solely the responsibility of America. Iraq’s commitment to achieving the MDGs can form the rationale for a concerted multilateral diplomatic effort by the UN Security Council to tackle many unresolved problems that obstruct the potential for sustainable development and stability.

During his address to the nation marking the end of combat operations in Iraq, Obama said that the US had “paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people”. While Iraq is no longer under the control of a brutal dictator, more needs to be done by the international community before Iraq’s destiny is firmly in the hands Iraqis.

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