The future of the state of Iraq is in the crosshairs, writes Barham Salih
A vision for ending Iraq’s crises
The military defeat of ISIL, the ramifications from the Kurdish referendum and the upcoming parliamentary elections represent defining moments in Iraq’s contemporary history. There is now an opportunity to reorient Iraq’s trajectory and propel the country towards prosperity and stability. Failure to seize this opportunity will condemn Iraq to deepening instability and may well doom Iraq to utter collapse.
As such, Iraq is in urgent need of an internal dialogue to address the underlying structural flaws at the crux of the post-2003 political order. Iraqis are indignant at years of conflict and the failure of the government to deliver services. Accusations of corruption are tarnishing the political class throughout Iraq, from Baghdad and Basra to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. Such corruption and abuse of public funds undermines the viability of the Iraqi state and sustains the cycle of conflict and terrorism. It is imperative to dry up this swamp of corruption. Prime minister Haider Al Abadi’s initiative to fight corruption is important and should be built upon through comprehensive legal means.
However, ending the crises that plague Iraq also require a reconstruction of the current political order to restore citizen trust in the government. A new political order must be based on the notion of a civil state that strengthens civic values, supports the role of women and their rights, and ensures a commitment to human rights. The ambiguity found in some provisions of the Iraqi constitution and its misapplication warrants a review of the constitution, but through constitutional mechanisms that have been agreed to by the people.
The Kurds have a natural right to self-determination, but that right comes through Baghdad, not through Ankara, Tehran or Washington. It is achieved through an understanding with partners in Iraq, not through conflict or political dependence on regional and foreign powers. It also requires, as a priority, internal political reform and an end to corruption, nepotism and mismanagement, all of which remain potent threats to Kurdish rights and self-government.
Many Kurds nowadays give precedence to political and economic reforms over nationalist rhetoric. This is a significant development and could well be a prelude to a settlement to the Kurdish predicament with the Iraqi state. The dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdish political leaders should not result in disregard for the constitutional rights of the Kurdish people. The state is required to protect its citizens and pay employee salaries in the service sectors and the Peshmerga, who fought courageously against ISIL, start formal negotiations between the federal and Kurdistan regional government.
Furthermore, Iraq’s political crisis cannot be completed without addressing the plight of Iraqi Sunnis, who have been victimised by ISIL. They are direct stakeholders in uprooting Takfiri ideology. We must help support and empower them to achieve this goal through real participation in Iraqi decisions, as well as return the displaced to their homes.
The solution can be found in Iraq’s need of economic advancement. The unity of Iraq and its security cannot be attained though force, rather it is crucially dependent on strengthening infrastructure links within Iraq and with the neighbourhood. This is to bind the country together and to promote common interests with the neighbours and to ensure job opportunities for the youth.
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This could be achieved by establishing an investment fund that prioritises the interests of Iraqis, in which Iraqi citizens are afforded the right to buy shares through IPO and where the state allocates a specific percentage of oil imports (for example, 5 per cent annually) to its growth. Iraqi and foreign private sector companies can also participate in the fund, as well as international financial institutions, donor countries and sovereign wealth funds in order to launch infrastructure projects with financial benefit similar to that of the Basra Port. These may include a highway network, new railways, airports, industrial cities and dams, and irrigation projects in the Nineveh Plain and Garamian Erbil, as well as land reclamation in the south. Similar experiences can be seen in Thailand, Vietnam and India, which attracted investment funding from sovereign wealth funds in Japan, China and the Gulf.
In addition to local economic growth, the Investment Fund could also contribute to regional economic prosperity. Iraq is an important strategic hub that joins the Arab world with Iran and Turkey and connects the economies of the Gulf and Europe. Through its production of oil and gas, the country plays a large role in the energy export system. The Investment Fund could finance infrastructure projects that connect the countries of the region so that Iraq could become the heart of a new Silk Road to the Mediterranean Sea.
Furthermore, the Investment Fund should be independent from the government, under the purview of a professional private organisation and formed by special law. The organisation’s administrative members should be approved by the parliament and governed by term limits, such as by serving for a period of no more than six years. International financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Islamic Bank could participate in the management of the fund to attract external investment. Moreover, the fund should be accompanied by an accounting and financial system that is subject to financial audit in accordance with international norms in order to prevent political interference and corruption.
Previous attempts to solve Iraq’s crises have failed due to fragmented and distant approaches that are out of touch with reality. Today, with the upcoming parliamentary elections and greater citizen voice, the country has an opportunity to lift itself out of its existing crises towards a path of prosperity, rather than become further entrenched in a web of instability.
Barham Salih is founder of the Coalition for Democracy and Justice, former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government and former deputy prime minister of Iraq