The first in a series of articles by Iraqis looking at Iraq's prospects to 2030 comes from Dean Mousavi, Najaf. Here he argues that outmoded socialist governance is an unsustainable drag on the Iraqi economy.
Iraq’s Vision 2030, a project to diversify the economy away from oil, has to be seen in the context of past struggles that still haunt the country. Iraq’s challenge now is not only to overcome the immediate and pressing problems of government formation and economic reform, it is to overcome the legacy of the past 60 years of failed governance. Since the fall of the stable Iraqi monarchy, Iraq’s trajectory has gone south. The coup that took place in 1958 led by the Free Officers, with the Communists among them, paved the road for the Baathists to gain power and take over later.
Thus began a rapid downward spiral which takes us to the years of wars and injustice, reaching a nadir with the rise of Saddam Hussein. Those terrible years were characterised by a bloody dictatorship that destroyed not just bodies, but crushed the very souls of millions of Iraqis who survived. Once again, we wait and see if the new political order can reverse the legacy of the recent past, but the scandals of the past few weeks, including the fire at the Baghdad ballot warehouse, do not instil confidence.
If there is one positive point, it is that there is relative unity between most of the main Iraqi parties. But the challenge of restoring faith in politics will be an uphill struggle.
As a result of this failing faith in politics, the memory of Saddam’s crimes is becoming distant for some Iraqis, especially the younger generation, but we must not forget the past. For many of us, a glimpse of hope came with the American intervention with Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, the new democracy in Iraq wasn’t approved by almost all of Iraq’s neighbors, and many of them tolerated the operations of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that were trying to destabilise the country and turn the new democracy into chaos. Iraq had another chance to rebuild itself after 2008 but many mistakes were made including the growth of sectarian tension that wasn’t properly addressed, which led Iraq to fall again into chaos, eventually setting the conditions for ISIS.
People were particularly afraid in 2014 after three provinces fell and even Baghdad and other Shiite majority cities were under-siege or frequently under attack. With very little initial coalition support, to many Iraqis the international community didn’t seem to care much. This was most likely due to all of the mistakes that were committed by former PM Maliki.
Abadi subsequently came to power facing an almost impossible task. He had to rebuild Iraq’s failing diplomatic presence from scratch, he had to unite the Iraqis under his banner, overcome the dysfunctional economy and much more. The fact that he has managed to make progress on most of these fronts means that Iraq is arguably more powerful than it ever was during the past 60 years, if we define power as level-headed governance. Even if Abadi is not re-nominated, it’s likely he’ll remain a positive political force for some time to come.
Iraq’s new policy of neutrality is working excellently as a range of Iraqi politicians are pushing for more stable and strong relationships with its neighbors (many of whom are former enemies, or even hostile to Iraq on some issues).
I have two visions for Iraq by 2030. One is extremely dark, but I’ll choose to put that to one side, hoping that it won’t happen and the system will be reformed. So I will talk about my other achievable vision for Iraq in 2030.
The main plan, and one pressed for by PM Abadi, is to move Iraq away from the socialist mentality to the capitalist one -Iraqis are still counting on the government to get them a job for life and a pension after they graduate- this is impossible to keep working on in the long run for any country, especially with a devastated economy like Iraq.
Iraq needs to get the private sector to be empowered to salvage the economy. Iraq is until now counting on oil and its price to decide the annual budget that is being exhausted by all the salaries that it pays. Salaries and pensions for state workers is part of a problem that includes the corruption that gave parliament members huge salaries for life (a single MP gets more for his/her pension than 10 senior government civil servants who served their country for +30 years.)
If oil is to fall to under $20 again--something that seems unlikely now but is highly possible in the cyclical oil market, then the government won’t be able to even pay these salaries without having any other alternatives now. So privatization is the solution for Iraq, bringing investors to Iraq by easing application processes and ditching the months of paper work and loops that the investors go through just to open a simple company in Iraq. Having these changes implemented, in addition to the new Iraqi foreign non-aggression and neutrality policy, could lead not just to greater economic power in the region but a political influence as well.
Iraq will take its rightful place on the map as being at the heart of the world. It will be the bridge that connects the world economically and peacefully. Despite all the flaws that we see in Iraq and all the sorrows, a brighter future is not just achievable but a requirement. The Iraqi people have survived-- as the cost of their democracy-- terrorism, civil war and an invasion that took one third of the country and left the rest under daily threat for almost four years.
But the country and its people decided to keep on believing in the democratic process and go to the polls, with great hope that Iraq will finally prosper, and that they too will see a better future for themselves and their children. The greatest dream is that Iraq shall rise like South Korea, which suffered from similar horrors as it was occupied by Imperial Japan, then suffered a devastating civil war and more than 5 million casualties.
But the South managed to rise and become a global economic power, not just an Asian one, after all of that happened, because of the people and what they believed in. I believe the same shall happen in Iraq by 2030 and I can see our country becoming one of the main economic powers in the Middle East region. If this is the case, sticking to the path of democracy, as long as reforms are implemented, will surely be a major factor in any success, just as the absence of democracy has been so problematic for many nations in the region.