Iraq’s troubled reconstruction timeline entered a new chapter as representatives from 70 states poured into Kuwait in attendance of The International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, the first of its kind in the history of the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. The fact that Iraq’s IMF ranks at 164 out of 182 least business friendly states was not enough to shake investor confidence. Even riskier is the fact that few guarantees are in place to ensure contractual obligation is honoured. This too, did not avert donors from pledging $330 million yesterday.
The lofty dream of turning failure into prosperity sits in stark contrast with stern warnings from representatives of the Red Cross and United Nations relief wing. Both have underlined potential shortcomings should vital stages beyond remedying physical damages be ignored by the government. The rehabilitation of health services and the staff needed to operate them were of greatest concern.
The cost of restoring the built landscapes flattened during the battle against Daesh is estimated at anywhere between $46 and $61 billion. Beyond these costs, lives have been stalled, while educations are placed on hold. The nine-month battle in Mosul ravaged its historic centre, incinerated six of its western districts and its international airport. Thousands are slowly repopulating lands where their homes stood, but some former residents may never return.
“What I and my great grandfather have built, we lost it all in a single night. Just like that. Are we foolish enough to set foot in a country where the central government continues to treats us like a commodity for political gains,” a former Christian Maslawi told MEMO.
“Return is not just bricks and mortar,” UNHCR representative Bruno Geddo described in a statement published today. “Return is not just going back to a house, it is going back to a community.”
Beyond genuine and noble instincts the greater mission to clean up the act of one of Iraq’s worst performing governments was a topic of conversation missing from the conference. Repetitive acts of corruption exercised at the highest ranks of the Iraqi state present the highest wall for the international community to climb. The prevailing “can we help logic” through rickety nods to the elite buys the silence of Iraq’s allies in exchange for generous financial compensation.
Much like the Iraqi street, Washington’s patience is wearing thin. Reconstruction of Iraq, unlike its oil reserves, is no longer on the list of its ally’s spending priorities. Since America invaded, it has spent $23.3 billion across sectors of oil, security, electricity and water according to the US Government Accountability Office (GOA). Barely a quarter of the sum accounts for Baghdad’s own expenditure ($3.9 billion) on the same areas between 2005 and 2008.
Three days ahead of the Kuwait conference Reuters reported that America would not necessarily pledge any money towards rebuilding. The spending priorities of America’s transactional leader President Trump are tilting but the void will not take time to fill. Even before Trump’s election, Washington vocally admonished Iraq’s failures to repair infrastructure, behind closed doors at least. America believes that with abundant oil and gas reserves, Iraq can foot the bill for its palpable failures. Replacements have therefore been ushered in to take America’s place, unable to trust Baghdad to handle the task alone. Whether the World Bank or the European Union, the next days will determine the role they play in post-Daesh Iraq.
The rallying call behind the latest effort to finance national development was the “total victory” claimed by the Iraqi premier back in December 2017. Yet the limelight spreads beyond Mosul. Extravagant proposals from today and the days to come will revive old plans to rehabilitate other areas of potential growth, namely the south and long abandoned cross country rail lines. International airports may be another favoured talking point. By commercialising the pilgrimage season, Abadi’s government hopes to generate greater income and healthy competition with other religious centres in the region. The sector that holds the keys to future wealth however is agriculture, a talking point that has been muted so far.
In light of the country’s track record, it is easy to conjecture that the conference is designed to keep the pendulum of awaited reconstruction swinging.
An improved economic performance may help place Iraq back on the track towards recovery but without hard cash from investors, the purchase of much needed materials, resources and technical skills will require time and cost-consuming efforts.
Every country present has reiterated “strong support” but when words fail to materialise, afflicted communities cannot be expected to take them seriously.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.