Iraq's political sectarianism: National Reconciliation and the Oil Curse

By Tariq Abdell, Founder & Chairman, Mesopotamia Insight.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The absence, thus far, of a democratically elected and accountable government -- over six months of political horse-trading -- underscores Iraq's fragile democracy that is exacerbated by a host of concomitant factors: inept and Self-serving political class, the region's geopolitical tensions and ploys (Iran's nuclear and expansionist ambitions, for instance), end of U.S. combat operations, and the resource curse - oil and gas.

The deep-rooted causes of the protracted political crisis and its calamitous symptoms (e.g., extremely impoverished population, lack of basic services, higher unemployment, severely languished infrastructure, dysfunctional State's institutions, political violence and organized crime, etc...) are most likely to linger for years to come if the coming government is a sectarian-based, non-inclusive, and opts for political marginalization. Consequently,  entrenching Iraq's centuries-old  ethno-sectarian schisms and setting the conditions for a weak and failed government... Simply put, Lebanization of Iraq's nascent democracy.

Abraham Lincoln once said "A house divided against itself cannot stand.", Iraqi politicians are morally and legally accountable before their constituents; thus, they are compelled to devise a concerted  and comprehensive  post-conflict National Reconciliation strategy capable of  a) preserving Iraq’s unity b) averting the collapse of the State’s institutions and c) creating the conditions for a sustainable and inclusive socio-economic recovery.

Drawing on past experiences, Iraqi leaders and lawmakers --from different political factions-- need to reach out to nations with similar past and build on their learned lessons:  President Nelson Mandela's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SA TRC) in South Africa,  Rwanda's post-genocide  National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), etc...  Moreover,  the United Nations (UN), as an honest broker in conflict and post-conflict zones,  could play a major role in overseeing and promoting Iraq’s National Reconciliation, rule of law, and help rehabilitate Iraq's decadent institutions as result of decades of wars and sanctions.

In the absence of a comprehensive and concerted national reconciliation strategy addressing the aspirations and preoccupations of Iraq's different ethno-sectarian groups, Iraq is most likely to revert to its darkest years of sectarian violence and lawlessness (05-07) -- geopolitically fueled and petro-dollars funded--  and, subsequently,  jeopardizing all the hard-earned achievements chiefly the toppling of Saddam's tyranny.

Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso, a prominent Venezuelan diplomat primarily responsible for OPEC inception which Iraq is a founding member, coined the phrase: “You will see oil will bring us ruin … oil is the devil’s excrement.”

Irrefutably, if Iraq's ruling class persists on pursuing the perilous path of political sectarianism and inequitable distribution of wealth, the outcomes of such tendencies would be a devastating political upheavals and vicious cycle of violent communal conflicts over the control and exploitation of Iraq's resources (oil and gas) and the allocation of the petro-dollars.

Historically, the bulk of Iraq's oil revenues are distributed along ethno-sectarian and tribal allegiances, as opposed to inclusive and growth-oriented economic policies, to preserve the ruling class power and maintain loyalties among its favored constituents. Consequently, giving rise to a wealthy and influential -- religiously and politically -- elite class .

"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day," according to report from the US Joint Forces Command

Given Iraq's proven oil and gas reserves, 115 billion barrels of oil and 112 trillion cubic feet of gas,  and current Peak Oil as result of global markets insatiable appetite for energy resources e.g., U.S., China, and India. Iraq is strategically positioned  as ever before to lead the oil market and bring immeasurable inflow of petro-dollars --commensurate with its colossal  reserves-- that can be used to fund its impending multi-billion dollar mega-reconstruction projects (e.g., houses, roads, hospitals, bridges, airports, schools, dams, etc) and, ultimately, lift millions of Iraqis out of poverty in a country where over 20 per cent of the population still live below the poverty line.

To this end, Iraq needs to institute an independent and inclusive  Petroleum Council -- reflecting  the geographic distribution of Iraq's energy resources -- that is responsible for formulating oil strategies, deflecting the politicization of the oil sector, enforcing transparency and accountability as bulwarks against corruption , and robust enough to reign SOC, NOC, and IOCs. Furthermore, Iraq can draw on other resource-rich nations' experiences in coping with the resource curse phenomenon e.g., Canada, Norway, and UAE. Also, Iraq needs to tap into its  expatriates' knowledge and expertise such as Mr. Farouk al-Kasim who helped Norway established its successful and prosperous oil industry.  

Inarguably, a genuine national reconciliation is Iraq's holy grail, in other words, it's an imperative prerequisite for preserving Iraq's unity, terrotorial integrity, and political stability. Conversely, lack of a genuine  national reconciliation strategy, strategic foresight, and leadership could easily trigger a resource war, resource-rich nations' deleterious disease, over Iraq's black gold. Alas, Iraq and its future generations would have to pay dearly for today's  injudicious choices , in other words, perpetuating  Iraq's ethno-sectarian strife, political instability, religious fanaticism, foreign interventions, economic setbacks, enormous debt and, consequently,  undermining the desperately needed investments.   

In sum, "A nation' s strength ultimately consists in what it can do on its own, and not in what it can borrow from others." Indira Gandhi.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.


The author, Tariq Abdell, is an Iraq analyst, and Founder & Chairman of Mesopotamia Insight

He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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One Response to Iraq's political sectarianism: National Reconciliation and the Oil Curse

  1. Mohamad Shbaro 7th October 2010 at 23:44 #

    Very Well Spoken Tariq, waiting for your next article.