Three steps to a new Iraq

Wext: Thursday, 12.August. @ 00:00:00 CEST


10. 08. 2004 - Let us conduct a little thought experiment. The year 2014 will arrive in 10 years and the US occupation of Iraq will be long over by then.

Let's imagine that Iraq does not break up in the civil war that the US government keeps telling us is the only alternative to a continued American military presence.

What is the best-case outcome for Iraq a decade from now?

Iraq was the most developed of the bigger Arab countries before Saddam Hussein dragged it into the war with Iran in 1980 and it could easily recover that status, given just one decade of good luck and good management.

Only three things have to happen right.

One, the occupation ends quickly.

Two, the country does not tear itself apart in an orgy of ethnic violence.

Three, the cash flow turns positive.

The occupation will end relatively soon - maybe as soon as next year - but certainly before the next US presidential election in 2008 - because the American public simply won't stand for the cost and the casualties.

One year or four years from now matters a lot in terms of what the international scene looks like by 2014 - we could be back in a global confrontation between rival alliances if Iraq goes on too long - but strangely, it matters less in terms of Iraq itself.

Either the country breaks up when the US pulls out, or it does not. Whenever it happens, the choice for Iraqi Kurds, Arabs and Turcomans, for Sunnis, Shi'ites and Christians, will be to bury their rivalries and prosper together, or to live apart in misery.

Choose wrongly and Iraq ends up as a super-Lebanon, immersed in a civil war of all against all, at 10 times the scale of the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. But Iraqis have always avoided civil war in the past, though sometimes at the price of tyranny.

The Baathist regime that came to power in the 1960s was a horror politically, but it knew how to use its oil wealth.

The country was the second-largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia and on the eve of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980 its gross domestic product (GDP) was about $200 billion in today's dollars.

That provided for free education for everybody (including university, if you qualified), a growing middle class, a diversified economy that did not depend solely on oil and the most liberated female population in the whole Arab world. Saddam Hussein was not yet at war, so Iraq's abundant natural and human resources produced the prosperity you would expect.

Then came the criminally foolish invasion of Iran and an eight-year war that should have spelled the end of Saddam Hussein - but did not, mainly because the Reagan administration decided that saving Saddam was a lesser evil than letting Iran win.

US support for Saddam ended with his invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War of 1991, but Iraq had to endure 12 years of United Nations sanctions before he was finally overthrown in the US invasion of 1993.

By now, after almost a-year-and-a-half of further damage from looting, foreign occupation and guerilla war, the Iraqi economy is about a quarter of what it was in 1980.

But the natural resources and the people are the same as they always were.

Countries with deep ethnic, linguistic and religious divisions that can see the promise of prosperity as the reward for co-operation can often surprise the pundits, by burying their rivalries and pulling together.

Think of Malaysia, of South Africa, of India. The Iraqis could confound the pessimists and do the same - and then, provided they sorted the cash flow issues, they could be seeing prosperity again by 2014.

Iraq's foreign debt, largely incurred during the war with Iran, now amounts to about $120bn, which is a crippling burden.

If the debt could be written down to one-third of its present amount, then Iraq would have a chance.

If Iraqi oil exports could be boosted to seven or eight million barrels a day, which could be achieved with five years of serious investment and if oil prices stay high (which seems practically guaranteed), then it would have a very good chance.

Note: Reports are published based on respect for freedom of opinion's expression, they do not necessarily reflect views of Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Source: Gulf Daily News

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