Last week’s Iraqi donor conference in Tokyo provided an “opportunity to reaffirm solidarity between the international community and the Iraqi people,” as the chairman declared in his concluding statement. In practical terms, however, the meeting produced few results. With violence still prevalent in Iraq, delegates from 57 countries and groups were concerned mainly about security risks. Progress was also hampered by differences over how to support reconstruction efforts.
Security and reconstruction are inseparable. It is essential, therefore, that the interim Iraqi government and the international-aid community work closely together to improve the lives of Iraqi people in parallel with efforts to stabilize the country. Pursuing these twin objectives in an integrated manner is key to parliamentary elections scheduled for next January.
At the conference, Baghdad officials announced a three-year strategy for economic and social development, including plans to increase oil production, repair telephone and railway systems, and build power plants. “The support of the international donor community will be the catalyst for turning the vicious cycle of poverty and terrorism into a virtuous cycle of economic growth, tolerance and peace,” Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said in a keynote speech.
Most donors, however, remained cautious, reflecting their concerns about the volatile situation in Iraq. Only one country, Iran, newly committed itself to contributing to the International Reconstruction Fund Facility. This trust fund, created under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, so far has collected $1 billion, including $490 million from Japan. The sum, however, is a far cry from the $13 billion pledged at last year’s donor conference in Madrid (excluding the $20 billion pledged by the United States).
“Most parts of the country are secure,” Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi Hafedh told the meeting. “The violence is almost confined to three out of 18 provinces.” This statement seems detached from the reality on the ground. Although the militia of radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has accepted a peace deal by handing over weapons, fighting continues in Fallujah and other areas between U.S.-Iraqi forces and insurgents. Terrorist attacks by Islamic militants also continue.
The critical question is how to expand aid ahead of the national ballot. “The elections are of life-and-death importance to the political process in Iraq,” Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said, adding that Japan will disburse more money from the trust fund. The U.S. administration, meanwhile, has announced plans to divert some of its infrastructure spending for Iraq to security measures and election preparations.
Of course, establishing security should be the top priority. But balance must be maintained between security spending and reconstruction work. Putting too much emphasis on law-and-order measures risks delaying projects essential to daily life, such as those for increasing electricity and water supplies and improving health-care services. Prolonged social and economic instability would only further embolden terrorists and insurgents who regard the interim government as Washington’s regime.
Iraq’s heavy foreign debt, estimated at $125 billion, also remains a major obstacle to reconstruction. A World Bank official said the Iraqi economy is showing signs of recovery but cannot achieve sustainable growth unless the debt problem is resolved. Creditor nations, however, are finding it difficult to hammer out an agreement. The U.S. is calling for a 95 percent cut while France is proposing smaller cuts of up to 50 percent. Most of the debt, it should be noted, was incurred during the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
There is no question that the U.S. holds the key to Iraqi reconstruction. With Washington slashing the infrastructure budget to increase security outlays, however, Iraq seems to have no choice but to ask for more aid from other nations in order to keep its reconstruction projects going. But, as was seen at the Tokyo meeting, most donors are not quite ready to chip in. Security is not the sole reason.
Thus far, U.S.-led reconstruction activities have created some undesirable effects, such as the rush to privatize Iraqi enterprises and the preferential treatment of large-scale projects involving American corporations. The overriding need now is to rebuild war-ravaged Iraq in the best interest of the Iraqi people. It is a task that can best be performed through closer involvement by the United Nations and other international organizations.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.