Iraqi government skimps on reconstruction preparations
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared “total victory” over the Islamic State (ISIS). While the rebirth of a copycat movement boils beneath Iraq’s north-western soil, the resurrection of Mosul and its sister towns and cities — where wreckage is the only feature of life — becomes the most radical reconstruction project Iraq has ever undertaken.
Initial estimates indicate costs may exceed $150 billion for this colossal task, which only 2% of Iraq’s 2018 federal budget has been allocated for.
Among the wreckage that covers liberated cities, not even the remnants of once-whole sewer systems, electric grids, hospitals and homes are recognisable. Amenities and services are in short supply for inhabitants growing increasingly desperate. Some have trickled back but “the situation remains dire,” said Nicholas Papachrysostomou, who heads Doctors without Borders’ mission in Iraq.
Abadi has showered praise on the United Nations for its assistance, without commenting on how such dependency can hurt more than help the country.
At the Mediterranean Dialogues November 30-December 2 in Rome, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari described the task as a responsibility the “world owes us.” He called on the international community to spearhead a project like the Marshall Plan that propelled the United States into Europe after the second world war, disguised, however, to misappropriate what Henry Luce said 77 years ago: “an empire by invitation.”
Jaafari’s remarks echo the government’s endeavour to mobilise stakeholders and donor countries to settle the unfinished business of liberation, which is expected to cost six times more than was needed to rebuild Beirut after 15 years of war. By outsourcing reconstruction costs, Iraq’s government accepts the oppression that reconstruction invites, in the form of strangulating restrictions and limitations imposed on society.
In a curious yet expected turn, US President Donald Trump promised to axe aid funding. The move was retribution against Baghdad for solidifying its alliance with US foe Tehran but the justification sanctioned for public use was that US taxpayers were burdened by costs that have grown too heavy to shoulder.
The US Agency for International Development overturned those threats and promised to funnel aid money into war-devastated areas. The Iraqi elections next year will allow Washington to determine its position based on the man elected to rule Iraq after Abadi.
The 10-year reconstruction plan will be monitored by the government-affiliated reconstruction fund formed in 2015. Its mandate is to coordinate “between the international organisations and Iraqi ministries.”
Less clear is where funds and resources come from to make this mammoth task possible. Looking at the fund’s official website, users are greeted with warm optimism — “the sun shines again” — but the reality is that winter is knocking and residents returning to areas ravaged by fierce counterterrorist operations have yet to see even their most basic needs met. It seems that the policy objectives of the state and the everyday needs of the people are worlds apart.
Among Iraq’s active donors, Germany has assumed the mantle of reconstruction leadership.
German Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel has stated that since 2014 Iraq has received more than $1.2 billion for reconstruction. In partnership with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Germany will inject another $8.3 million for communities across Mosul, Falluja and Ramadi. An agreement between Germany and the United Nations’ development programme was signed in August “to support civic and community-based reconciliation.”
Opting out of the effort is the leading partner in the fight against ISIS and Iraq’s closest ally — Iran. While Tehran happily funds Iraqi militiamen financially and logistically, Tehran’s religious elite (Iraq’s natural allies as lobbyists contend) have proven less devoted to restoring war-devastated cities.
What concerns Iran more is the distribution of “black gold” after it helped Iraqi security forces (ISF) and allied militias to secure Kirkuk’s oilfields. Five weeks later, an oil swap deal was struck in which oil from Iraq’s northern ports would be exchanged for “oil of the same characteristics” and quantity from Kermanshah. The deal is the beginning of efforts to build a pipeline between both countries that could replace Iraq’s largest crude oil export line (Turkey-Kirkuk).
Kuwait is also cashing in and will be hosting an international conference to bring together countries that can bear the fruits needed to rebuild the country.
As more donors are recruited into reconstruction efforts, the greater leverage the United States has to claw back the power it has lost in Iraq.
Iraq’s leadership has either fallen short of understanding the risks of post-conflict building or is helpless in the face of a budget deficit that has swollen to $26 billion.