Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - Page 9 News List

The disenchantment of Iraq — Saddam’s gone, but so is hope

By Feisal Amin Al-istrabadi

As for the economy, no one expected a replication of Germany’s post-1945 Wirtschaftswunder. Still, Iraq has vast oil and natural gas reserves, to which all of the major oil companies wanted access. Everyone stood to benefit: the companies would profit handsomely, while Iraq would gain new technology and vast sums to rebuild the country’s devastated infrastructure.

The reality has been far different. After 10 years, Iraq’s oil production has finally recovered to its pre-war level. However, Iraq’s government has not completed a single infrastructure project: no new hospitals, schools, roads, or housing whatsoever.

Basic services such as electricity and waste collection have yet to be restored even in major urban centers like Baghdad. (By contrast, reconstruction in Iraqi Kurdistan is occurring at breakneck speed.) Iraqis are about to enter their 11th summer, when temperatures routinely exceed 50°C, with no more than sporadic power and running water.

This lack of progress is truly remarkable, given that Iraq’s annual budgets for the last five years have totaled nearly US$500 billion. Incompetence and corruption are rampant: Iraq routinely scores among the bottom 10 countries in Transparency International’s list of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Likewise, Iraq’s unemployment and underemployment levels remain among the highest in the Middle East. And, as Iraq observer Joel Wing has pointed out, public-sector employment doubled from 2005 to 2010, and now accounts for roughly 60 percent of the full-time labor force. The brain drain among Iraq’s educated youth has accelerated in the last 10 years, because many of them simply see no future in the country.

Amnesty International recently issued a report detailing the continued systematic abuse of fundamental human rights in Iraq. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. True, Maliki’s nascent dictatorship is lighter than that of Saddam at his worst, and perhaps that is some progress. However, what has been gained may be far outweighed by what has been lost: the hope that if Saddam and his tyranny could just be removed, decency, stability and normalcy could be restored. That, finally, is the true tragedy of Iraq this year.

Feisal Amin Rasoul al-Istrabadi was deputy permanent representative of Iraq to the UN from 2004 to 2007, and was the principal drafter of Iraq’s interim constitution. He is the founding director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he is University Scholar in International Law and Diplomacy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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