Corruption and conflict hamper Iraq’s rebuilding efforts
Iraq’s government on Monday called for billions of euros worth of foreign aid to rebuild the country after its three-year conflict with the Islamic State armed group, but observers say widespread corruption and a weakened social fabric threaten efforts to recover.
Iraqi Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili opened a three-day conference in Kuwait by announcing his country is seeking 88.2 billion US dollars, equivalent to upwards of 72 billion euros, to rebuild follow the defeat of the jihadists.
The figure is based on an assessment study by Iraqi and international experts and is meant to address devastated oil, electricity and manufacturing infrastructure, water and sanitation services, lack of housing and the displacement of some 2.5 million people.
The hardest hit areas are in the north – especially around the northern city of Mosul, which the Islamic State (IS) group occupied from June 2014 to July 2017 – but the government is casting its nets wide.
“What the Iraqi government is talking about is physical reconstruction, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi emphasises that the southern provinces, which of course are his political bases, have also been deprived because of expenses of the war,” says Kirk H. Sowell, a risk consultant and publisher of the newsletter Inside Iraqi Politics.
“The Iraqi government has enough money to pay salaries, but that’s pretty much it, so it can’t build new schools for example without the money being given to them.”
Iraqi officials say nations could act as guarantors for loans to fund infrastructure projects.
But there is some scepticism about how effective this would be in long-term rebuilding from humanitarian workers, who say Iraqis displaces by the fighting need much more than physical services.
“The Iraqis need to trust that they have a future before them, that they will be safe in their own homes,” says Deepmala Mahla is country official with aid group Mercy Corps, which has been active in Iraq since after the US invasion of 2003.
“At the Kuwait conference, I want [participants] to ask three questions before they consider any investment in Iraq: does it promote responsive and good government, does it build bridges between communities, and most importantly, does it include and encourage young people to take ownership of their future.”
Corruption and warnings
Potential donors, including countries that took part in the US-led coalition against the IS, have not exactly jumped on the opportunity.
US officials have said Washington does not plan to pledge any money at the Kuwait conference, and France has pledged its support for the reconstruction phase without making any mention of a contribution.
One source of scepticism comes down to doubt that money would go to its intended purpose.
“There is very little basis for the Iraqi government’s claims that it is fighting corruption, and that’s the real problem,” says Kirk H. Sowell.
“Provinces including Basra, Anbar, Mosul and Saladin are governed so very poorly, and the individuals involved are so thoroughly implicated and discredited, that until there is a real campaign against corruption, and a change in the political class, then having more money by itself certainly isn’t going to solve many of the problems.”
But while there are doubts concerning the aims of the Kuwait conference, there is also apprehension over the cost of not rebuilding the country, and the United Nations has warned the IS could resurface if Iraq does not get the support it is seeking.
Deepmala Mahla with Mercy Corps has a similar warning, due to the long-term effects of conflict stretching back to the 2003 US invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
“People have been displaced multiple times,” she says. “We meet children, young people, who have never been to their native place, their village and home and family.
“We know many people who have been able to go back to their areas, but what are they going back to? A completely damaged city, broken buildings with marks of bullets and heavy artillery and machinery. So yes, they are back in their hometown, is there basic service? Schools are functioning? Health care, electricity? No.”
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