Iraq and the new geopolitical calculus

By Tariq Abdell, Iraq’s political risk analyst, and Founder & CEO of Mesopotamia Insight.

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

In light of ongoing socio-political changes in MENA region, Iraq's massive protests, from Zakho to al-Faw, accentuate the political astuteness and the frustration of the Iraqi people with their elected officials. Disenfranchised Shiites, Sunnis, Kurdish, Arabs, and Christians are all demanding the same: an end to ethno-sectarian quota-sharing system, corruption, and, most importantly, universal access to basic services such as potable water, electricity, housing, education, healthcare, and jobs.

Nonetheless, given the legitimacy and urgency of the protestors' demands, the government nebulous responses (halving of some officials' salaries, 100-day ultimatum to incumbent ministers, boosting food ration with extra cash, etc...) are mere cosmetic measures to allay people's frustration and anger. Unarguably, the cumulative effects, hitherto, of the elected officials' ineptitude and schism are protracting decades of erroneous policies and, subsequently, the people's tribulations. Impelling the majority of the Iraqi people to question the legitimacy of their government and the effectiveness of its institutions, a dangerous threshold that could hastily throw the country back into its darkest years of sectarian violence and lawlessness.

Notwithstanding Iraq's colossal energy resources, billions of oil and natural gas reserves, Iraq fragile democracy and ineffectual institutions, in a restive region, are the breeding ground for societal and political upheavals and foreign interventions. In fact, Iraq's daunting and intricate challenges are both internal and regional:

Internal challenges:

  • Lack of basic services, e.g., six million people with no access to clean water -UNICEF.
  • 20 to 25 percent of Iraqis still live below the country’s poverty line.
  • Unemployment rates hover around %18, notably among military-age male population.
  • Higher illiteracy rates, exacerbated with massive brain drain, are eroding Iraq's skilled and professionally literate workforce.
  • Rampant corruption and nepotism undermine the efficiency of the State institutions.
  • Inequitable distribution and mismanagement of oil's revenues - no hydrocarbon law.
  • Parliament still faces a backlog of sensitive issues.

Regional challenges:

  • Given the region new geopolitical developments, heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi, Iraq could easily turn into a sectarian proxy war battleground - Shiite Vs. Sunnis.
  • The fallouts of Iran's nuclear standoff with the West could easily spillover to Iraq’s already contentious politics and further undermining its stability.
  • Given Kirkuk's enormous oil reserves and ethnic diversity (Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen), it's protracted dispute is a timed bomb, which could expeditiously reignite Iraq's civil war.
  • Turkey’s recurrent incursion into Northern Iraq in the pursuit of the Kurdish workers party (PKK) elements and PKK assiduous attacks on the northern oil pipelines are a major threat to the country’s resources and sovereignty.
  • Given the hostile intentions of some neighboring counties, the U.S. planned troops withdrawal, by the end of the year, could further jeopardise Iraq's defense capabilities.

Thus, given the enormity and complexity of the aforementioned challenges, Iraq only viable mean to fend off political instability and chaos is to renounce its sectarian-based policies and espouse an inclusive and genuine democratic system that heads to the people aspirations and protects their rights (UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Furthermore, both the government and opposition ought to consolidate their efforts to bolster accountability, eradicate corruption and, subsequently, strengthen the State institutions, an essential prerequisite for a rapid socio-economic recovery. To this end, the new government’s long-term vision should entail an action plan that reflects the country strategic and pressing priorities, namely:

  • Genuine national reconciliation to overcome sectarian and political schism and violence.
  • Overhauling of State institutions to rein in corruption and enhance efficiency.
  • Merit-based appointments to promote efficiency and accountability.
  • Providing access to basic services (e.g., potable water, electricity, running sewer, etc)
  • Equitable distribution of oil revenues.
  • Investing in human capital through education and training.
  • Job creation to fend off societal and political unrest (Organized crime, for instance).
  • Advancing the principles of human rights and rule of law.
  • Diversifying and reviving of Iraq' strategic industries to curb its dependence on a single commodity - fossil fuel.

Conversely, in the absence of a comprehensive and inclusive socio-economic development strategy, aiming at strengthening State institutions, eradicating corruption, and addressing the aspirations of the Iraqi people, regardless of their political and religious believes, Iraq may revert to its darkest years of sectarian violence and lawlessness (05-07), giving regional players (Iran, Saudi, Turkey, Syria) a free hand in Iraq's affairs - exploiting Iraq's vulnerabilities (Shiite-Sunni strife, for instance)- to further their national interests and, subsequently, turning Iraq into a prime battleground for proxy wars, or worse, a pariah State. Simply put, “a house divided against itself cannot stand” Abraham Lincoln.

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

The author, Tariq Abdell, Iraq's political risk analyst, and Founder & CEO of Mesopotamia Insight

He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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2 Responses to Iraq and the new geopolitical calculus

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  2. JUN V. DeLEON 3rd April 2011 at 20:18 #

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