Wednesday, April 11, 2007

#1 Challenge: Create Jobs

At an on-the-record event at USIP this morning, Iraqi government spokesman Dr. Ali al-Dubbagh gave some insights into the interaction of politics, economics and violence in Iraq.

The violence in Iraq can be split into three categories, says Dr. al-Dubbagh. Ending the first type of violence -- political violence -- involves a process that must begin with the help of Iraq's neighbors. By continuing to build on the diplomatic groundwork laid at last month's regional summit in Baghdad, the Iraqi government hopes that at next month's international summit in Egypt, it will be able to convince its neighbors to sign on to a collective regional security treaty that respects the sovereignty of Iraq and thereby obligates neighboring states, particularly Iran, to refrain from any actions that undermine the Iraqi government.

Iran's interference is adding more cracks to the the fissions in Iraq's populace. The Iraqi people, says Dr. al-Dubbagh, are moderate and not prone to extremism; this current wave of sectarianism is being perpetrated, with the aid of Iran, by a very small minority of Iraqis. Diplomacy between Arab states will hopefully stop Iran's Shia-led government from their attempts to bring Iraq's Shia majority further into their grasp. This trend needs to reversed because it is harmful to both regional stability and Iraqi national reconciliation.

Once the problem of external meddling has been dealt with, Dr. al-Dubbagh says that Iraq's leaders can move on to mending the divisions that contribute to political violence. Some remedies will come with consensus about revenue sharing, federalism, and a de-Bathifacation commission. An efficient, non-sectarian national army is also needed to reclaim the legitimate use of force from militias like the Mahdi Army. And since an army requires troops, and troops require training, Dr. al-Dubbagh does not see the Americans, who are responsible for training these troops, as able to leave anytime in the foreseeable future.

The second type of violence is economic violence. The Iraqi government's most important challenge of 2007 will be to create jobs in the South. According to Dr. al-Dubbagh, Iraq has $14 billion dollars -- $10 billion in budgetary surplus and $4 billion on loan from Japan -- that it plans to use to create half a million jobs. While he didn't go into details about how jobs will be created, I can only presume that Iraq will re-start their state owned factories, making good on a promise to heed President Bush's call.

Why is this a good thing? Because with an unemployment rate of 50%, militias and other extremist groups have found a golden recruitment opportunity: exploiting a sense of anger and frustration among breadwinners who are no longer able to provide for their families. Job creation means a diminished role for the militias, which in turn means more security and greater economic strengthening as private sector investors feel more confident putting their money into Iraqi markets and industries. This self-perpetuating cycle offers one of the best hopes for stabilizing Iraq, and it all starts with giving people jobs.

Going beyond providing income for the people of Iraq, their government is planning on building 10 new hospitals throughout the provinces, as well as 200 new schools, construction which they plan to finance through Japanese loans. Dr. al-Dubbagh said that Iraq needs more loans like the ones granted by Japan so that it can continue rebuilding infrastructure until oil revenue reaches higher levels, such as the projected $75 billion annual revenue by 2010.

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