This month, the United States has withdrawn its combat troops after a seven-year Iraq campaign. It follows an earlier withdrawal – the withdrawal of the promise to leave a stable, free and democratic Iraq.
Nearly a decade after the US invasion, with an unemployment rate of about 40 per cent and thousands of refugees driven from the country in search of a safer, better life, the rhetoric of a free Iraq has given way to the necessity of a stable Iraq – one which provides opportunities for the 30 million people who remain.
Their future lies not in the shifting promises of the bickering political leadership or the vagaries of aid disbursement, but in the certainty of employment and economic progress.
The hope is that the major investments that have taken place, particularly in the energy sector, will have knock-on effects to the rest of the economy. Private foreign investors are keen to capitalise upon Iraq’s potential – and contribute to its rebuilding. Over $63 billion poured into the oil, gas and real estate sectors between 2003 and last year. As of 2009, the UAE was the leading foreign investor in Iraq, contributing more than $31 billion.
More than 83 per cent of investment has been allocated to so-called mega-projects. Less is said of the small businesses that have been stifled since economic sanctions in the 1990s. The family-run store, normally the backbone of the community economy, has to be revived or else their sons will return to the street.
As much as anything else, security relies on a basic quality of life. “Electricity is worse than ever,” Sheikh Ahmad al Kinani, a Shiite in west Baghdad, told The National yesterday. “Children and elderly are dying from the heat.” Indeed, even after years in power, the US-backed Iraqi government has been unable to provide stable services of water, electricity and other necessities. That must change.
The fuel of this redevelopment is, not surprisingly, oil. Given the country’s possession of the second largest reserves – and the hope of relatively stable oil prices – the economic trajectory should be positive. Plans to increase the country’s output capacity fourfold by 2017 are perhaps overambitious, but confidence is the key to growth.
The country’s boosters have predicted an urban Metro in Baghdad within 10 years. They are paid for such rosy assessments. Iraq, and particularly her cities, are recovering from one of the most ravaging periods in modern Middle Eastern history. The country has the resources to again become a pillar of the region, but it is a long road ahead.