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A Committee For Reconstruction – The Cure For Iraq’s Economic Woes?

Mustafa Habib
Thanks to security problems, political bickering and a lack of vision, there are thousands of development and construction projects on hold in Iraq. Now local economists and investors are calling for the formation…
9.10.2014  |  Baghdad
Despite billions in oil income, many reconstruction projects remain stalled.
Despite billions in oil income, many reconstruction projects remain stalled.

Iraq has been suffering from unclear economic planning for over a decade now. As a result, it is only smaller, private projects that ever seem to be completed. Large, strategic, government-funded projects are either never started or never finished.

Additionally corruption, security issues and political infighting have all led to a delay in the Iraqi Parliament approving the annual federal budget. In turn this has led to delays in all of the projects that the Iraqi government would normally be funding. According to the Iraqi government figures, the 2014 budget would be coming in at around US$140 billion.

Which is why many investors, economists and business people in Iraq have come up with a new idea to kick start the Iraqi economy. Many are saying they want to see the formation of an independent Committee for Reconstruction, a body which would be tasked with creating and implementing development projects.

Part of the reason they are enthusiastic about this idea is that it has been used successfully in Iraq before. In the 1950s, when Iraq was ruled by a monarchy established by British colonisers, there was a similar committee. The Iraqi Development Board completed major projects around the country, some of which still benefit the population today.

One example is the Thar Thar reservoir which both stores water and diverts flooding from Baghdad.

Other examples include a number of bridges in Baghdad as well as the Abu Ghraib dairy factory project and the National Museum of Iraq. Although the Iraqi Development Board was dissolved when the monarchy was overthrown, the governments that followed have also used data and research as well as strategic plans that the former Board developed

This is part of the reason why locals are so keen on the formation of a similar new body.

Thousands of development and reconstruction projects have been disrupted and remain incomplete, Majid al-Souri, a local economist, told NIQASH. “The Ministry of Planning and other institutions haven’t made any progress on them.”

Al-Souri is a fan of the idea of a Committee for Reconstruction as he believes that if it was staffed with the right technocrats, it would be able to make autonomous decisions, away from political conflicts that seem to hamper all official decision making in the country.

“The slow process of reconstruction and poor economic conditions in the country are caused mainly by those official institutions overseeing it,” states another local economist, Kamal al-Basri. By this, he means that experts are largely absent from decision making and policy planning. There is also a lack of transparency and a lack of coordination between various government organisations involved.

Those organisations need to be re-evaluated and reformed, al-Basri suggests. He is also a fan of the idea of a Committee for Reconstruction, especially if it was to be staffed with experts.

Another part of the reason local analysts are so keen on this idea is because of how the political system in Iraq has seen dozens of genuine experts forced to leave their jobs. Then the jobs were given to flunkeys who belonged to the right political party but who were not capable of doing the job well.

Additionally, they suggest, political infighting saw competing groups try to sabotage the work of the others, when it came to making a success of a reconstruction project. That meant nobody could claim success.

“The establishment of a Committee for Reconstruction is an important step in Iraq’s development,” a former Minister of Planning, Mahdi al-Hafez, told NIQASH. “However in order to establish a committee like this we need a functioning government and a shared economic strategy.”

“For ten years, Iraq has not had this,” al-Hafez continued. “And this is part of what has delayed so much work and investment.”