When will Iraq become a developed country?

The heavy rebirth of Iraq

In political terms, nine years is not a long time. Statistics from the World Bank show that it takes 36 years to build a state institution, 27 years to eradicate corruption and 41 years to establish the rule of law.1 In contrast, the attention span of the international community is much shorter; a state that does not reinvent itself fast enough (like Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo) disappears from the news.

Iraq is similar: ousted from the Western press by the “Arab Spring”, the country is grappling with Herculean tasks such as reform of the security sector, democratic governance, terrorism and violence between different groups - all in a tense regional environment that it is in its own Reconstruction is reluctantly supported or even undermined. Still, the past few years in Iraq have not been unsuccessful.

The agony of choice

In the 80 years of its independent existence, Iraq was at most fragmentary and at times a democracy. Between its independence in 1930 and the end of the monarchy in 1958, ten parliamentary elections were held - but they were rigorously manipulated in order to provide the Sunni royal house with a popular representation that was appropriate for it. Under the successive dictatorships, elections took place irregularly and with questionable results: Saddam Hussein was confirmed in office in 1995 with 99.96 percent and in 2002 with 100 percent of the votes. The five parliamentary elections under his rule did not allow any real pluralism alongside the ruling Ba'ath party.

A true democracy with elections and freely rival parties is therefore a new experience for the Iraqis. Since the 2003 invasion, Iraqis have voted twice (2005 and 2010) on the composition of their parliament; a newly developed electoral system guarantees minorities and women parliamentary seats. Parties formed explosively across the country. In the first elections in 2005, 20,000 candidates and 34 coalitions ran, and the fact that voter turnout was 60 and 70 percent, despite the tense security situation, was rightly considered positive. Many Sunnis, who boycotted the first free elections out of dissatisfaction with the new political system, took part in the second elections in 2010.

However, the transition to democracy is always difficult. It is the phase that harbors the greatest potential for violence, mainly because free elections immediately following the end of an autocratic system exacerbate rather than reduce social tensions. It was and is no different in Iraq. Parties and coalitions are formed primarily along ethnic-denominational lines. This often leads to antagonistic rhetoric, which makes use of inflammatory accusations rather than worrying about political content. Since Arab Sunnis were preferred under Saddam Hussein, they are now under general suspicion of collaboration; prior to the 2010 elections, around 500 mostly Sunni candidates were banned on suspicion of being affiliated with the Ba'ath Party in any way.

From the elections the coalition Al-Irakija emerged, which has a secular-nationalist color and was elected by both Sunnis and secular Shiites, including many military officers. Despite the election victory, the coalition was unable to form a government, as the rest of parliament is dominated by Shiite parties, some of which are more and some less religiously motivated.

After ten months of negotiations, a grand coalition was finally formed, but the peace did not last long. In December 2011, just days after the last American soldiers left, Tarek al-Hashemi, a Sunni leader and a member of the presidential council, was charged with organizing terrorist attacks and planning a coup. Hashemi fled to the Kurdish north. Many see this as part of a systematic punishment for the Sunnis; the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is believed to be the author of the arrest warrant.

The separation of powers, the formation of non-denominational parties and the coming to terms with the dictatorial past are issues where the young Iraqi democracy still has some catching up to do. However, there is limited reason for hope: Al-Irakija was the only cross-denominational party to garner the most votes, and even the Shiite camp cannot be seen entirely as a stooge of Iran. For example, Muktada al-Sadr, the head of the Shiite Mahdi militias, has lost one of his main themes with the withdrawal of American troops. For all the inflammatory rhetoric and the lack of political maturity, one should not forget that these are typical symptoms of a young democracy.

From old to new: the army

The disintegration of the Iraqi army in May 2003 created more problems than it solved: it not only put half a million gun-savvy men on the streets - it no longer even saw a place in the new security structures for them. Anyone who had been part of the Ba'ath regime in any way was expelled from the new army, originally only 44,000 strong. The USA soon had to give up these plans; Iraq urgently needed a security structure that had to be a lot larger in order to be able to guarantee security at all.

The “new” Iraqi army is therefore largely the old Iraqi army - all generals and 70 percent of the officer corps served under Saddam Hussein. The military makes one thing above all else: experienced in matters of security. In only six years it was possible to employ 200,000 men, to train in counter-terrorism and to become operational. Creating a military institution out of nowhere would take several decades.

The Iraqi army has a good reputation among the population. It guaranteed the elections to run safely and is now faced with the challenge of replacing the American troops. The level of violence has decreased significantly in recent years, but now the question arises whether the Iraqi security forces will be able to guarantee the security of the country without American support. Because not everything is rosy when it comes to the military: 30 percent of officer posts are vacant due to a lack of qualified personnel, and while Saddam Hussein pursued a strict policy of deconfessionalization, posts in the security forces are now assigned according to ethnic and religious affiliation. The top ranks follow a numerical proportion, i.e. 20 percent Arab Sunnis, 60 percent Arab Shiites and 18 percent Kurds, which corresponds to the estimated proportion of the population.

The problem is that political interference in internal military affairs is generally viewed reluctantly - all the more so when an organization that invokes the principle of meritocracy is suddenly asked to take ethnic-denominational factors into account. In the case of Iraq, there is also the fact that the new quota primarily benefits the group that was disadvantaged under Saddam Hussein: the Arab Shiites. Before 2003, 20 percent of Iraqi officers were Shiites; But because 70 percent of the current officers - and thus almost everyone above the rank of captain - come from the old army, this means that the Shiites were promoted preferentially. They make up 60 percent at the highest level. Of course, this displeases those who are already dissatisfied with the new system: the Arab Sunnis.

This dissatisfaction is exacerbated by the decision to only accept the minuscule 150-strong US training mission (the US proposed 20,000) and to abandon the NATO training mission. Iraqi generals even publicly admitted that they would need support until 2020 in order to be able to operate alone

Frustration in the military always harbors potential danger - but especially in a country where the military has grown accustomed to influence in politics over decades, rejects sectarian politics and perceives itself as the only true national institution. It should not be forgotten that the Iraqi military carried out the first Arab coup d'état in 1936 and had staged six coups before they came to power in 1968. Tragically, Saddam Hussein was the first Iraqi civilian to take control of the country's military.

Poor rich country

The Iraqi economy has not had an easy year. The eight-year war against Iran, the 1991 war, the years of sanctions and the 2003 invasion caused massive damage to the country's infrastructure, millions of refugees and $ 130 to $ 140 billion in debt, the majority of which is foreign debt. The debt relief program, which the Iraqi government implemented primarily with the members of the Paris Club, has reduced this to 92 billion dollars - 67 billion of this is debt to Gulf states.

With the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, the interim administration of the international coalition in Iraq under Paul Bremer also heralded an end to the planned and the introduction of the market economy - which has been progressing rather hesitantly so far. Since transitions of this kind are always difficult economically and politically, the Iraqi parliament suspended Bremer's decisions, particularly with regard to the oil sector. However, other areas, such as tourism and consumer goods, have so far benefited from the liberalization of the markets. Taxes were cut from 45 percent to 15 percent, the stabilized security situation allowed inflation to slow down and attracted foreign investors. Oil exports reached 2002 levels in 2009, and the discovery of additional oil fields in 2010 promises Iraq more sources of income for decades to come.

However, oil reserves have proven to be a political curse in most countries, as natural resources are more conducive to autocracy than democracy. This is confirmed by the fact that Prime Minister Maliki also tends to concentrate a lot of power in his hands - he is currently Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Minister of the Interior and Defense, and Minister of National Security. As long as oil makes up 90 percent of the gross domestic product, there will be a tendency to center power autocratically in order to monopolize the distribution of the proceeds. In addition, oil is dependent on international markets and therefore a certain incalculability.

Alone among many

Iraq has always been a paradox in the regional structure. Unpopular with its neighbors due to its pan-Arab rhetoric, which made Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt rival, due to its size, strategic location and oil reserves, it was at the same time the eastern gateway to the Arab world and thus the bulwark against expansionist Iran. Because of this, most of its neighbors (except Syria) supported the war against Iran from 1980 to 1988 with loans. When Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990, the same neighbors (except Jordan) allied themselves with the international coalition to liberate the Gulf state.

This duality in regional interaction has not changed after 2003 either. While the Gulf states fear Iranian influence in Iraq, they have not taken any measures to offer the state a regional alternative. Apart from Qatar, which canceled Iraq's debts in 2004, the other Gulf states, especially Kuwait, are reluctant to facilitate reintegration into the Arab region for the country. The United Arab Emirates only waived $ 8.5 billion in debt in January 2012, but Kuwait and Saudi Arabia continue to insist on repaying the $ 27 billion and $ 30 billion debt, respectively.

Above all, the relationship with Kuwait has political consequences: As long as Iraq has not found an agreement with the Gulf state, it will remain under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter (measures in the event of a threat or breach of peace and in the event of aggressive acts), which is not only for him limited in its state sovereignty, but also economically hindered. Baghdad cannot expect any support from traditionally hostile Syria, which has allowed terrorists to enter Iraq since 2003, or from Turkey, which is causing great discomfort in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. The cancellation of the Arab League summit in Baghdad in 2011 was also interpreted as Arab isolation in Iraq, although security concerns were probably the main factor. In this context, it is not surprising that Iraq accepts Iranian offers of economic and military cooperation and gets on better with its eastern neighbor than its other neighboring countries would like.

Nine years later: the balance sheet

Actually, there is reason to be optimistic: Iraq has even more oil than expected, its population is educated, politically interested and is progressing in the democratic learning process. The worst years of violence between ethnic and religious groups are over, and US forces withdrew in late 2011. Statistically speaking, in 2013 Iraq's chances of finally leaving the spiral of violence ten years after the invasion 3 so that the economy can recover and reconstruction can get under way.

But the regional context does not make it easy for Iraq: The international tensions with Iran and the instability of Syria will very likely also make themselves felt in Iraq, which, however, has little room for maneuver. The rule of thumb is that the more stable Iraq is internally, the less impact regional events will have on it.

Dr. FLORENCE GAUB is a lecturer in the Middle East Department of the NATO Defense College in Rome.