By Bardia Sinaee
For the past five years, the war in Iraq has been one of the hottest topics in the news media, with various solutions being suggested by serious observers and pundits alike. Realistic contemporary analysis reveals, however, that Iraq can no longer be fixed through current schemes, as the country’s political, economic, and social systems must be rebuilt from the ground up.
Just weeks before the end of his ten-year term as the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan made a controversial statement: Iraq was better off under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Using the current situation of Iraqi civilians as an example, observers like Annan have claimed that the Saddam’s regime provided more stability and safety for the average Iraqi than does the American occupation.
The American–led invasion of Iraq in 2003 (and the preceding history of the state) have been detrimental to the country’s structure and it can only prosper through realistic planning. In brief, Iraq must pursue a complete re-establishment of its political, environmental, social, and economic systems. With cooperation from the international community, and most importantly, its own citizens, Iraq has the option of learning from the past in order to move forward.
Iraq’s social structure is in a state of chaos and this social unrest must be examined to determine the root causes. Safety for civilians is almost non-existent. In April 2007, the month that marked the fourth year of the occupation, 1,500 Iraqi civilians were killed. These murders can be attributed to the numerous civil wars that are currently taking place – in most cases between equally culpable Sunni and Shiite insurgency groups.
The various clashes – often targeting civilian masses, government buildings, and oil projects – reflect the struggle for political power between many groups within the country.
A provincial election in early 2005 saw the major Shiite parties joining under the United Iraqi Alliance, causing some to fear that Iraq may move towards a conservative theocracy resembling that of neighboring Iran. One party within the United Iraqi Alliance even controlled a special unit that had been trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. But those in favour of true freedom for Iraqi citizens need only look at Iran’s tainted democratic record to realize that a theocracy is an impractical form of government.
Iraq’s crime pandemic also fuels the flames of instability. In the absence of an effective police force, criminals and insurgency groups are targeting the relatively affluent Iraqi middle class – causing a mass exodus of many skilled workers. Middle class workers such as engineers, radiologists, and physicians have become popular targets for robbery, extortion, and kidnapping. This persistent emigration of skilled workers will undoubtedly cause the continual collapse of Iraq’s infrastructure, and will increase the time needed to recover in the future.
The threat of an oppressive theocracy, further insurgency, and the ongoing crime pandemic, require a form of security in Iraq that is planned for over a matter of years. Iraqi and American government officials must realize that security cannot be achieved with patch-up solutions in a matter of months, and such realities must be accepted in order to move forward with a thorough framework for attaining long-term stability in Iraq. If the roots of the aforementioned problems are assessed, they can be solved.
Another dire issue in Iraq is the condition of its environment. A history of conflict and ecological negligence has left Iraq’s environment in a reduced state that, in-turn, limits the country’s ability to sell and export goods such as oil and agriculture. An example of the nation’s past environmental negligence is the Mesopotamian marshlands. The area widely reputed to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden has been devastated by irresponsible engineering schemes, such as upstream dams and drainage projects. In all, about 90 percent of the marshlands were destroyed in less than ten years, triggering a variety of wildlife and social problems in the process. A group of indigenous people known as the Marsh Arabs, who have lived in the area for over 5000 years, has witnessed the collapse of their culture as a result of Iraq’s shortcomings in ecological preservation.
However, the most lethal predator of Iraq’s environment has been war. Less than two years after the 2003 invasion, the United States had unleashed about $200 billion in damage in Iraq. As devastation costs continue to mount, the Americans pay for a decreasing portion of rebuilding, which began at 25 percent in 2003. With its infrastructure already in shambles, it is virtually impossible for Iraq to pay for reconstruction without loans. But, in turn, these loans would push Iraq into a cycle of debt as it would struggle to pay the interest to first world lenders like the United States.
Paying for reparations could permanently cripple Iraq’s economy, and a mechanism must be put in place to hold nations financially responsible for the environmental damage they caused in Iraq. A good example of such a system is the United Nations Compensation Commission for the Gulf War, which was established in 1991. With the use of a ‘justice through compensation’ mechanism, Iraq could be relieved of directly paying for most reconstruction costs. Instead, the country can focus on a healthy future by forming strategies aimed at taking advantage of the potential tourism profits that linger within areas like the Mesopotamian Garden of Eden and the Marsh Arab Society.
Tourism is also dependent on sound infrastructure, and the backbone of any healthy infrastructure is constituted by the people who work within it. Unfortunately, most of the middle class skilled workers required for this field have fled Iraq because of the ongoing conflict and crime. Reversing this brain drain and ensuring that these workers stay will be a key part of rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure.
Since the 2003 invasion, over two million Iraqis have fled the country in search of safety. The nation has been cheated out of its brightest citizens. The number of kids attending school in 2007 was 30 percent of that of the early 1990s. Meanwhile, most of the classes in Iraq’s most elite colleges are now taught by teaching assistants, as over 300 academics have been killed since the invasion. Of the 30,000 physicians that worked in Iraq in 2003, approximately 8,000 remain in the country today. The lack of doctors has crippled the healthcare sector nationwide and worsened the death toll from insurgency attacks, sequentially fueling further emigration.
Stopping this catch-22 of instability-fueling-migration-fueling-instability will be crucial to Iraq’s future as no society can function without doctors. It will take an entire generation to replenish the country’s supply of young doctors and this alone will not be enough. A reverse brain drain will be needed to bring back older, more experienced doctors to teach and train the younger generation.
During the Saddam years, the government used unsuccessful patch-up solutions, such as charging doctors large sums of money to leave the country, which doctors easily paid with their high salaries. For a long-term reversal of this brain drain, the problem will need to be addressed at the root. Issues such as crime, civil war, and environmental neglect will all need to be dealt with in order to convince Iraqi doctors, who are currently underemployed overseas to return.
The final step of the process should involve tactics similar to those used after the Kuwait War, where government officials began to leverage the profession by listening to and working with doctors on vital issues, such as proper food rationing and family planning. All of these steps, like doctors themselves, are necessities within the process of rebuilding Iraq.
The reconstruction of a state is never an easy process and the key to Iraq’s success will be learning from the past and planning realistically. Doing so could raise the standard of living of the average Iraqi to a level that exceeds that achieved during the Saddam and immediate post-invasion periods.
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