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Iraqi End-June Concerns
I cannot say I was too surprised by it, but then I must also admit that I was not expecting it to happen with such ferocity either...

28 June   |   2009   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... In the Iraqi context, I am referring of course to the latest series of violence that have resulted in so many deaths and so much mayhem. Whether in the heart of Baghdad, or in Ba’qouba, Sadr City, Khalis, Mosul, Taza, Nasiriya or Kirkuk, those widespread bombings were aimed at Sunnis as well as Shi’is, civilians as well as Iraqi security forces or US soldiers, and they underscored the patent vulnerability of Iraqi cities and towns to insurgent attacks.

In fact, just as it seemed that the Iraqi government was getting the security situation under some form of management, those vicious attacks have endeavoured to highlight that Iraqi forces are not capable of handling security tasks. In the process, they have also meant to undermine the withdrawal of American troops in accordance with the Iraqi-US agreement to their bases or rural areas, and away from the main centres, by end-June.

Although I am concerned by this fresh wave of death and destruction, since human lives are being squandered for spurious ideological reasons, I have a feeling that the Iraqi authorities could still succeed in controlling its worst manifestations once the American withdrawal has taken place. It is a battle of nerves, I would argue, one that Iraqi politicians and officials country-wide should not lose to terrorists.

Today, however, I am leaving issues of security in the hands of experts, and will focus instead on some of the alarming themes that constitute the future of the whole of Iraq. After all, what is the point of returning the country to its rightful owners after six long years if it will simply fragment into overall dystrophy?

Let me start off first with the human dimension, and more particularly with the Iraqi refugees as well as internally-displaced persons who are unable to get back to their hearths. As most readers know, some 4 million Iraqis were displaced following the US-led invasion in 2003. Of those, and according to the UNHCR, the country remains too fragile to absorb the 1.5 million refugees still living outside its borders. In the past, I have reminded readers of the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan or elsewhere that are torn between a desire to return to their homes and a fear that they will be persecuted, discriminated against in an increasingly sectarian set-up and possibly languish in poverty due to the high rates of unemployment. In fact, the humanitarian efforts deployed by Syria and Jordan alone are remarkable as those two Arab countries struggle to cope with the presence of so many needy Iraqis.

However, under this very heading, few will have heard of the resettlement in the USA since 2007 of roughly 19,000 Iraqis (according to the statistics of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services) under a programme that prioritises vulnerable refugees, including former US government employees and religious minorities. Only recently, the International Rescue Committee released a study showing that the US government refugee resettlement programme is “dangerously under-funded,” and no longer met the basic needs of those newly arriving refugees. The report, based on interviews with Iraqis, healthcare providers, employers, teachers and state officials in Phoenix and Atlanta stated that refugees’ problems were exacerbated by the economic slump, which made it more difficult for them to find jobs to support themselves and that some of them are also facing homelessness.

A second concern I feel goes largely unnoticed is that of thousands of landmines, unexploded ordnances and other remnants of conflict that have contaminated the Iraqi countryside. According to Mine Risk Education, they are posing a serious threat to life and limb - particularly to children, women who collect water and firewood, as well as nomads, shepherds and farmers. There is a need for training to handle those mines to reduce unnecessary fatalities everywhere, especially in the most affected communities within the Kirkuk governorate. In Farqan for instance, a village with a high number of internally-displaced persons and scenes of stand-offs between government and Peshmerga forces, many residents from this village have moved away, such as to the Chamchamal district, in order to avoid those minefields.

Finally, as my third concern, I would like to refer once more to another crucial element of nation-building - namely, oil. It seems there is an almost indecent rush by all and sundry in Iraq to move ahead a bit too hurriedly on oil contracts. One watershed moment comes in a few days when the Iraqi government puts development rights to some of its largest oilfields for auction to foreign companies that were kicked out some forty years ago. However, is the country ready enough, and safe enough, for 20-year service contracts that draw in such a sudden infusion of capital from international oil corporations, especially when the Iraqi Parliament has not as yet even approved a law regulating the oil industry?

I am aware that the big oil giants prefer the more lucrative production-sharing agreements to the finite service contracts, since the former would allow them to share directly in the profits from the oil production rather than getting fixed fees. However, money - a slick and necessary motivation for both sides - should not be the only common denominator. Although oil production accounts for roughly 95% of foreign exchange earnings, Iraq should be chary about too many joint ventures depleting rapidly - rather than developing slowly - their oil rights as well as hydrocarbon resources. Iraq can afford to be more cautious: with 115 billion barrels, it has the third largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and Iran, relatively close to the surface, and so can be extracted in abundance and relatively cheaply.

Hand-in-hand with contracts between foreign oil companies and the central government, the Kurdistan Regional Government has also independently signed around 30 contracts with international companies in Kirkuk, and this is once again augmenting tensions between Kurds and the central government that refuses to recognise them.

Having come out from under a despotic and blood-thirsty rule since at least 1979 when Saddam Hussein took over as president from the ailing General Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr, until his execution on 30 December 2006, Iraqis country-wide have been wrestling with the consequences of the allied invasion of 2003. In one sense, they have been given an opportunity to edify a society that is freer and provides equal fundamental rights and protection to all its communities. On the other hand, some of the consequences of the invasion have also been disastrous and the country has come apart at the seams in different ways. But now that it seems to be slowly coming together again, albeit haltingly, Iraqis should protect this unique experience of the Arab World - no matter its genesis and history - so it does not splinter away into more deaths, destruction, black holes and eventually political subsidence.

This is why it is imperative for the rule of law to prevail in Iraq, and for those defending law and order to do so diligently and with careful attention to the broader interests of the country. Every effort should be deployed to resist those usurping power and interest through leverage, nepotism or corruption or violence.

30 June 2009 is the date when the American troops re-deploy their presence. It could become a symbolic date for Iraqis - Kurds, Shi’is, Sunnis and all other suffering communities - if only they were to realise that in the still-fragile future well-being of the whole country lies their own long-term interests, and in the collapse of its still-feeble structures might lie short-term profits but also long-term losses.

Edward Abbey once reportedly wrote, vox clamantis in deserto. Roughly translated, it refers to the voice of one crying in the wilderness. So which voices will Iraqis heed, how will they act for their own good, and what will they choose this month when they have another chance to build up a weakened nation?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2009   |   28 June


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