Commentary

Is Iraq Better Off?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Iraqis are marking the ten year anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime this week. However, unlike ten years ago, according to most reports celebrations are expected to be restrained. The somber mood reflects the challenges facing a country that is still struggling with the provision of basic commodities and a chronic electricity shortage that has made building a viable post-Baath economy nearly impossible. Some have gone so far as to call for a lawsuit to seek damages from the U.S. government. Not everyone has been a loser from the invasion of Iraq, however. The Kurdish economy in the north is improving, as oil and tourism revenues continue to increase. Meanwhile, Nouri Al-Maliki, the autocratic prime minister of Iraq, insists that rather than “Iosing” Iraq, the United States has gained a foreign policy ally (though this is unlikely to reassure Washington).

In a report published this week, the online daily Aswat Al-Iraq finds that most politicians (and Iraqis in general) have mixed feelings about the invasion and what the future holds for Iraq: “Politician Shakir Kitab told Aswat al-Iraq ‘we did not have any development in life after the change, because unemployment is spreading and the change of the society to the consumptive, not productive, in addition to the lack in services and no horizons to solve these crises’....Kurdish Alliance MP Ashwaq al-Jaf told Aswat al-Iraq ‘after ten years of the toppling the previous dictatorship, we are still living in sort of masked democracy’....Iraqiya bloc MP Haidar al-Mulla described the political process ‘as a prisoner in the mid of power conflicts to the extent that we did not reach to the limits of building the state.’”

Prime Minister Al-Maliki, however, is bullish about his country’s prospects.  In an editorial that mixes support for the regimes in Syria and Iran with praise for the United States, Maliki notes that Iraq and the Iraqis are in a much better place now than they were under Saddam Hussein’s rule: “On the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the debate about the directions of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is influenced by a pessimistic view that the U.S. has lost Iraq. Not true. Despite all the problems of the past decade, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis agree that we’re better off today than under Hussein’s brutal dictatorship. Iraqis will remain grateful for the U.S. role and for the losses sustained by military and civilian personnel that contributed in ending Hussein’s rule.... With provincial elections this month and general elections next year, Iraqis can resolve their disagreements with ballots, not bullets. The U.S. has not ‘lost’ Iraq. Instead, in Iraq, the U.S. has found a partner for our shared strategic concerns and our common efforts on energy, economics and the promotion of peace and democracy.”

Not everyone shares that assessment, however. Taking advantage of the tenth anniversary of the toppling of the regime, members of the Free Iraqiya bloc have recently called on the foreign ministry “to file a suit against USA for the damages and devastations incurred by its forces in the country. In a statement, copy received by Aswat al-Iraq, the bloc demanded material and moral compensations for years of [U.S.] occupation, describing 9th of April, 2003 a ‘sad day connected with dissolving the Iraqi army, devastation of infrastructures and the division of Iraq.’”

Moreover, economic and social problems continue to make living in Iraq difficult. In an article for Al Hayat, Walid Khadduri reports on a recent conference, where “Adnan al-Janabi, in a booklet he handed out during the conference that summarized his ideas on the Iraqi economy, and in his many discussions on the subject, pointed out that Iraq would continue to suffer from resurgent dictatorship as long as oil revenues are controlled by a ‘strong man’ in Baghdad…. Instead, Janabi proposed diversifying the way revenues are redistributed, to flow increasingly towards the provinces, in addition to Baghdad. This, he said, can be achieved by implementing in earnest the federal system Iraq adopted after 2003. Otherwise, a new dictatorship is inevitable, as is evident today, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki controlling the political, military, and security pillars of power, in addition to the oil revenues.”

The Iraqi government has promised a radical improvement of the electrical grid, but few Iraqis are buying the government’s promises. The debate about the new electrical grid was the subject of a recent article by the Iraqi daily Azzaman, where it was noted that the Ministry of Electricity has promised tha by “’October this year [Iraq] will see an end to power shortages in the country and advises owners of private generators to start selling their machines to junk traders.’ ....Despite the minister’s promises, there are few in Iraq who believe that the crisis of power supplies will be something of the past soon. Electricity supplies are still erratic and many Iraqis rely on private generators which are not powerful enough to operate cooling systems and gadgets.... Such promises were repeatedly made in the past but never materialized.”

Not everyone is as pessimistic about their future. In fact, as Ghassan Charbel suggests, for the Kurds living in the north of Iraq the past decade has been one of stability and prosperity: “In this terrible Middle East, where regimes and governments are crumbling, borders are wobbling, and minorities are trembling, we are witnessing the birth of a new player, the Kurdish player....For the first time in their bloodstained history, the Kurdish people enjoyed an entire decade of stability. They are living under their own flag, though they have kept the Iraqi flag as well. They teach their children their own language, and sing their national songs in public. They are building roads and universities. And they are luring investors and tourists.”


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