Floating on a sea of ââoil, Iraq should by now have rebuilt its war-torn infrastructure and restored its economy. But construction sites remain idle. The Baghdad skyline is littered with rusting cranes. Roads and bridges are full of craters, potholes and broken. Power outages are still the rule and plague the Iraqi people without heating in winter and without air conditioning in the scorching summer temperatures.
Those rich enough to keep their fridges running and charge their cell phones rely on private generators. And while Baghdad’s infrastructure has deteriorated, the population has continued to grow, aided by the influx of refugees fleeing conflict areas in the Middle East. At the time of the American invasion in 2003, Baghdad had 4.7 million inhabitants. Today there are over 8.2 million.
Iraq is a broken country. Its infrastructure was destroyed by decades of sanctions and war during the reign of deposed President Saddam Hussein and the US-led invasion in 2003 and the violent uprisings that followed. When ISIS conquered over 40% of Iraqi territory in 2014, the resulting campaign to annihilate the black-clad jihadists led to the almost complete destruction of the old Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Mosul and Ramadi.
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Middle Eastern economists estimate the country will need around $ 100 billion (Â£ 70.7 billion) to rebuild. Its plight was exacerbated by the pandemic and the collapse in oil prices, made worse by the global lockdown. Oil revenues are vital to Iraq. They fund the government’s universal food subsidy program, which distributes wheat, rice, sugar and vegetable oil to the Iraqi people every month. Due to the budget deficit, the Iraqi government now faces challenges in paying civil servants’ salaries as well as pensions to their senior citizens.
The cause of the collapse of Iraq cannot be blamed solely on Saddam Hussein and the Bush / Blair invasion in 2003, which led to the overthrow of his cruel Ba’ath regime. The eight-year tenure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a puppet of the Iranian regime, from 2006 to 2014 sowed the sectarian seeds that sparked a low-level civil war and paved the way for ISIS to invade the country from Syria.
The ensuing uprising and industrial-scale corruption by Iraq’s political elite crippled the country and rendered all pledges to rebuild and rebuild the economy meaningless. Al-Maliki’s son Ahmed was arrested in Beirut in 2014 after Lebanese security forces allegedly found him in possession of over $ 1.5 billion in cash, money apparently injected from Iraq.
In announcing a new bill to combat endemic corruption, Iraqi President Barham Saleh recently alleged that since the Allied invasion in 2003, the country’s politicians had embezzled $ 150 billion (Â£ 106 billion) to fund terrorists and insurgents were.
President Saleh said the new bill will seek cooperation from foreign governments to recover much of this stolen property smuggled out of Iraq. The President highlighted the situation in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, which has been disrupted by protests for 18 months.
Although Basra is the oil capital of Iraq and its main port, its citizens live in miserable slums. They make their plight as a direct result of political corruption. In fact, Basra’s former governor Majid al-Nasrawi fled the country after the Iraqi Integrity Commission launched corruption proceedings against him. Unfortunately, President Saleh’s anti-corruption law has little prospect of legal force. Under the Iraqi constitution, power rests with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and his government, which consists of a troubled coalition of pro-Western and pro-Iranian factions.
Al-Kadhimi is considered more pro-Washington than pro-Tehran, which could prove to be his Achilles heel. He is cunning and secular, and his appointment as prime minister reflects the growing public disdain for the meddling of the Iranian mullahs in Iraq. But unlike previous Iraqi leaders like al-Maliki, Khadimi has no political party to ask for support during difficult times. Iraq’s poor financial position means it will have to rely on Washington’s economic support and warns its MPs that the Biden administration may pull the plug on future funding if they do not support its reform package.
But Kadhimi’s job has not been made easier by the fact that years of mismanagement and corruption have made Iraq a soft target for Tehran, which quickly took control of the multitude of Shiite militias, trained over 150,000 of them, armed and included them in the so-called – So-called Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). After their role in the fight against ISIS, PMF networks have developed into major security, political and economic groups vying for power in the Iraqi state. Their representatives in the country’s parliament owe their direct loyalty to the theocratic regime in Tehran, and Kadhimi cannot afford to alienate them. But the PMF’s role in the shooting of hundreds of unarmed civilians who participated in anti-government protests has led to repeated calls for Iran and its proxies to be expelled from Iraq.
Until the Iraqis can loosen the grip of the mullahs and regain control of their own affairs, al-Kadhimi must walk a political tightrope. If he can win US, EU and UN support for major reforms, he may have a chance to implement some changes, including President Saleh’s anti-corruption laws.
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Its main priorities should be to drastically reform the civil service, dismiss corrupt incompetents and replace them with trained staff. He should provide a fixed percentage of the oil revenue for reconstruction projects and ensure that the reconstruction of Iraq is taken out of the hands of corrupt ministries and overseen by a statutory independent reconstruction committee.
He should create a financial police with extensive powers of investigation and arrest and set up special anti-corruption courts and he should overhaul the judiciary and introduce strict criteria of competence and honesty that cannot be influenced by powerful politicians.
Such reforms would only scratch the surface, but they could put Iraq and its people back on the path to future prosperity after decades of war and corruption.
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