“It was not the 2003 invasion that brought my country to its knees. Things have always been very bad… They just got much worse.” This is what my Arabic professor told me last fall, speaking of her home nation Iraq. I listened to her words and understood that this information was exclusive to the classroom; no one else was hearing her story. And now that the war is over, it seems even less likely that anyone will.
>Key reports on the Iraq relief and development:
Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Revenues, Expenditures, and Surplus
Government Accountability Office (GAO)
From 2005 through 2007, the Iraqi government generated an estimated $96 billion in cumulative revenues (mostly from oil sales). For 2008, GAO estimates that Iraq could generate as much as $86 billion in total revenues. From 2005 through 2007, the Iraqi government spent an estimated $67 billion on operating and investment activities. The Iraqi government spent only 1% of total expenditures to maintain Iraq- and U.S.-funded investments such as buildings, water and electricity installations. From 2005 through 2007, Iraq was unable to spend all its budgeted funds. In 2007, Iraq spent 80% of its $29 billion operating budget and 28% of its $12 billion investment budget. For 2008, GAO estimates that Iraq could spend as much as $35.9 billion of its $49.9 billion budget. As a result, GAO estimates a cumulative budget surplus of about $29 billion from 2005 to 2007 and projects an additional $38 to $50 billion budget surplus for 2008 (although a proposed $22 billion Iraqi budget supplemental could reduce this projected surplus). U.S. and international officials identify the shortage of trained staff, weak procurement and budgeting systems, violence and sectarian strife, and other factors affecting the Iraqi government’s ability to spend more of its revenues on capital investments.
Failed Responsibility: Iraqi Refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon
International Crisis Group (ICG)
Although the security situation in Iraq shows progress, Iraqi refugees remain stranded, jobless and deprived of essential services, while the Iraqi government and the wider international community have failed in their responsibilities and are ill prepared to cope with a new refugee crisis, should it occur. While initially welcoming their Iraqi brethren, ICG reports that Syria and Jordan have put tough restrictions on entry. They provide few basic services and inadequate opportunities for jobs, health care and children’s education. If the host countries can be faulted for unfriendly treatment of refugees, they deserve credit for receiving so many at great cost to their societies. By contrast, it is difficult to give the Iraqi government any credit. Flush with oil money, it has been conspicuously ungenerous toward its citizens stranded abroad. The attitude of Western nations also has been deeply troubling.
Iraq Displacement 2008 Mid-Year in Review
International Organization for Migration (IOM)
During the first half of 2008, trends of decreased violence and a declining rate of displacement continued throughout the country. Yet the deteriorating conditions facing the 2.8 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), as well as the limited returnee population, remain one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world. The report finds that about half of the population continue to get their water from unsafe sources — 53% from nearby rivers and streams and 52% from open or broken pipes. Meanwhile, shelter is consistently among the highest-priority needs cited by IDPs, and eviction threats coupled with rapidly rising rental prices have created an even more precarious housing situation in recent months. Food access was also poor, only three in ten had regular access to food rations. About half had intermittent access and 21% no access at all. In addition, approximately two million Iraqis are refugees, mostly in neighboring Syria and Jordan, resulting in a total of 5 million internally and externally displaced.
Assessment on Returns to Iraq Amongst Iraqi Refugee Population in Syria
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
A survey of nearly 1,000 Iraqis currently staying in Syria has shown that 95 percent fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity and that only 4 percent currently had plans to return to Iraq.
Consolidated Appeal for Iraq 2008
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Conflict in Iraq has exacerbated chronic problems that stem from the past two decades. An estimated four million people in the country are in need of food assistance as the Public Distribution System is weakened, and only 40 percent of the population has reliable access to safe drinking water. As part of the global Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) for 2008, the $265 million Emergency Appeal for Iraq brings together 14 UN agencies and 10 NGOs to deliver urgent relief to vulnerable people in Iraq over the next 12 months. Priority areas include health and nutrition, education, water and sanitation, housing and shelter, food, and protection. These operations are designed to move into recovery programs and are part of a wider effort to support Iraq’s own goals for stability and recovery.
>Responding to my May 2 post Where are the Benchmarks for U.S. Progress? Bruce Wallace (aka PT Witte in Second Life) asks…
Where is the reconciliation benchmark? How long are the Iraqis going to wait before they get a strong reconciliation program going? It’s not like we don’t know how to do this. Great work in connecting divided people has already been done in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Rwanda. It’s time for the Iraqis to stand up to the forces that seek to divide.
Bruce is right. More ought to be done to promote conflict resolution, peacebuilding and national reconciliation in Iraq. I also share his view about the utility of increased pressure on Iraqi parliamentarians and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Maliki’s government to achieve political benchmarks. However, I disagree with the popular notion that deadlines will magically compel Iraqis to act. While deadlines might help, other factors, such as the small matter of Iraq’s civil war, present major stumbling blocks.
Thus, my answer to Bruce’s question “how long are Iraqis going to wait before they get a strong reconciliation program going?” is simple: they will wait until they feel secure enough to do so.
As long as Iraq’s civil war continues, national reconciliation will be difficult if not impossible. But Iraqi leaders (and the U.S.) have no option but to try, and plenty of Iraqis can’t be blamed for not trying. I think of an Iraqi colleague killed by an unknown gunmen last year. His crime? He was trying to advance peace and reconciliation between Sunni and Shia neighbors in the midst of rising sectarian violence.
Reconciliation is not something that ends wars, but rather helps societies heal after wars. South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process did not begin until after apartheid came to an end. Rwanda, on the other hand, is relatively stable, yet far from national reconciliation. The Tutsi-dominated government is still holding countless Rwandans in prison camps, including many denied due process. Rwandans expressing human rights concerns are often accused of “genocidal thinking.” Meanwhile, 10,000s of Rwandan refugees and remnants of the Interahamwe, informal Hutu-dominated militias that participated in the genocide, remain just across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To heal Rwanda’s divided society, a lot of reconciliation work remains.
So if national reconciliation doesn’t end civil wars, how do they really end? According to the literature, civil wars end when either one side wins outright or when combatants reach a stalemate, realizing no side is strong enough to prevail and hold onto power.
Returning to Bruce (aka PT Witte), his choice of countries — Rwanda, Northern Ireland and South Africa — offers an interesting range of case studies. In Rwanda, the civil war ended with one side (the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front) winning outright. Northern Ireland’s long civil war between Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists ended in stalemate, making the 1998 Good Friday Agreement possible and leading to the formation of a power-sharing government. In the case of South Africa, decades of violent apartheid ended when the ruling National Party began negotiating itself out of power and the African National Congress (ANC) won the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994. When the ANC came to power, the government was not purged of civil servants from the previous regime (an example one would wish L. Paul Bremer and Iraqi expatriates had followed back in 2003).
Unfortunately, the combatants of Iraq’s civil war appear to be far from both stalemate and a decisive victory by any one side. Based on their rhetoric, factions among the various insurgent groups and militias clearly believe they can seize power through force of arms –- at least, once the Americans are out of the way.
In his recent Foreign Affairs essay, James Fearon writes:
Even if an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops reduces violence in Baghdad and so buys time for negotiations on power sharing in the current Iraqi government, there is no good reason to expect that subsequent reductions would not revive the violent power struggle. Civil wars are rarely ended by stable power-sharing agreements. When they are, it typically takes combatants who are not highly factionalized and years of fighting to clarify the balance of power. Neither condition is satisfied by Iraq at present.
In other words, barring a massive outside intervention that only Sen. McCain seems to support, it’s far more likely that Iraq’s civil war will get much worse before it can get better.
Pro-withdrawal Democrats like Rep. Murtha seem to recognize this. Rather than pull U.S. forces from the Middle East, he advocates “strategic redeployment” to “contain” Iraq’s civil war. Likewise, less talk in recent months has centered on “ending the war.” Instead, Congressional leaders talk about “ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq’s civil war.”
In their January report When Things Fall Apart, Kenneth Pollack and Daniel Byman of Brookings put it this way:
President George W. Bush has staked everything on one last-chance effort to quell the fighting and jumpstart a process of political reconciliation and economic reconstruction. Should this last effort fail, the United States is likely to very quickly have to determine how best to handle an Iraq that will be erupting into Bosnia- or Lebanon-style all-out civil war. The history of such wars is that they are disastrous for all parties, but the United States will have little choice but to try to stave off disaster as best it can.
Until a lasting peace can be negotiated between Iraq’s warring factions, we have an obligation to do what we can to protect innocent civilians, assist war victims, and help refugees and internally displaced persons, especially those who are most vulnerable. We also have a responsibility to work with our Iraqi and international partners to prevent the conflict from escalating beyond Iraq’s borders into a full scale regional war. That ought to be something the Bush administration and both parties in Congress can agree on –- regardless of differences over military surges and troop withdrawals.
This is definitely a case where “united we stand, divided we fall.” While it has become fashionable and in some cases accurate to blame the Iraqis for zero-sum politics and not moving quickly enough, there is plenty of room for improvement on those accounts here in Washington as well.
Meanwhile in the field throughout Iraq, Americans and Iraqis — civilian and military — are risking their lives to do what they can with what they have. Many have little choice in the matter. If efforts at the national level with Prime Minister Maliki’s government stall, much can still be done at the local level. For readers interested in local conflict prevention and peacebuilding strategies for Iraq, I recommend this resource (PDF) from our friends at the 3D Security Initiative.
Thanks for the great questions Bruce, and for giving EPIC a Second Life among PT Witte and friends.
>Let’s step into our way-back machine and throw the dial to early November 2006. Speculating on potential common ground between President Bush and the coming Democratic majority, I wrote this:
To help stabilize Iraq and repair some of the damage done by the U.S., there will need to be a viable strategy for responsible withdrawal and continued development assistance. In a word: “benchmarks.”
Dial the way-back machine further to the summer of 2003, when EPIC hosted a weekend Iraq Forum and lobbied more than 100 Members of Congress, delivering our Citizens’ Humanitarian Pledge to the Peace of Iraq signed by 30,000 Americans. Our message at that time was the same, Congress must establish benchmarks to hold the Bush administration accountable for progress in helping the people of Iraq rebuild after the U.S. invasion and decades of war, tyranny and crippling sanctions.
Four years later and Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle are finally converging on benchmarks, but sadly they’re not the benchmarks that I had in mind. The benchmarks proposed by Senator Olympia Snowe and other Republicans are one-sided and misguided. One-sided because they focus on “Iraqi progress” and ignore the American side of the equation. Misguided because they seem to suggest that Iraq has a fully functional state and if Iraq’s leaders would simply get on with it, there would be a political solution to Iraq’s multiple conflicts and we’d soon see the country’s economy, infrastructure, and government services back on track.
This week the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released its latest quarterly report evaluating “U.S. progress.” The findings are summed up nicely by the Washington Post: “The U.S. project to rebuild Iraq remains far short of its targets, leaving the country plagued by power outages, inadequate oil production and shortages of clean water and health care, according to a report to be issued today by a U.S. government oversight agency.”
Benchmarks are not a bad idea, but they ought to be realistic and balanced to demand government performance from both Washington and Baghdad.