A UN-led relief and stabilisation programme could hinder the state-rebuilding process in post-IS Iraq, writes Salah Nasrawi
On 18 July, 18 Iraqi media outlets disclosed that members of the provincial Anbar Council had allotted millions of dollars to themselves as what they considered to be compensation for the damage caused to their houses during the fight to drive Islamic State (IS) group militants from cities in the province.
Some 38 members of the council will receive lucrative pay-offs, with at least one of the councillors netting approximately $1 million in compensation, according to documents obtained by the media. Millions of dollars will also go to councillors’ relatives, friends and cronies.
The revelation of the Anbar Council corruption scandal soon led to arguments, as international donors last month launched a vast UN-led assistance plan after the liberation of Iraqi cities and towns from IS militants.
There are growing fears that the appropriations may be badly run because of endemic corruption and backsliding in the Iraqi government on both the national and local levels, amid concerns that the UN bureaucracy, widely criticised as being beset by inefficiency and misconceived programmes, cannot be an effective tool in reducing graft on such a large-scale reconstruction and development programme.
Previous Iraqi governments’ humanitarian programmes were rife with corruption and money snaffling, which had corrosive effects on relief and reconstruction efforts. In November 2014, the country’s parliament voted to abolish a government committee tasked with providing emergency aid to displaced people from the cities taken by IS after accusations of rampant corruption.
Head of the committee Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlaq was accused of squandering some $500 million in unaccounted for purchases and expenses. Al-Mutlaq denied any embezzlement, but was later fired from his post. No proper investigation into the allegations was conducted.
Now the donor nations, working under the umbrella of the US-led International Coalition against IS, say they want to take responsibility for a new relief and rehabilitation programme that will be put in place once the Iraqi cities are retaken from IS militants.
The militants’ defences have been crumbling fast across Iraq, and an offensive to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and last IS stronghold, is already under way. The aid programme is mainly designed to help pacify the mostly Sunni populated provinces affected by the war against IS in order to prevent the group from returning to the areas or a recurrence of the Sunni insurgency.
Most worrying, however, is the fact that the plan will put the international community in charge of post-IS Iraq’s reconstruction, without the active participation of Iraqis in planning and execution and without a mandate, or well-designed roadmap, for ending Iraq’s lingering conflicts.
Under the so-called stabilisation programme, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will take responsibility for supervising a multi-billion dollar effort to support the Iraqi government in its efforts to stabilise the newly liberated areas.
The UNDP’s main goals, as outlined in a post on its Website, are to restore the delivery of basic services in the retaken areas, jumpstart the local economy, implement the emergency restoration of priority infrastructure in these areas, and stimulate the local economy to generate income and employment opportunities.
According to a mechanism called the Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilisation (FFIS), the UNDP is to work in several development fields, including public works, infrastructure rehabilitation, improving livelihoods and capacity support.
But this is an endeavour that Iraq’s coffers cannot afford. The country faces a huge budget deficit of up to $20 billion this year alone, as it grapples with low oil revenues and the heavy cost of the war with IS militants.
In May, the government announced that the World Bank would provide Iraq with a $1.2 billion loan to help Baghdad manage its finances and fund emergency reconstruction in towns recaptured from IS.
Last month, donor countries raised some $2.1 billion for Iraq, which organisers said will go towards alleviating the suffering, deprivation and devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by IS.
But the United States made it clear that the money would not be going to the Iraqi government, but instead would go to the United Nations and its agencies for humanitarian assistance.
“These donations, and our contribution among them, will go to the UN to distribute. They do a remarkable job figuring out who needs to get it, where they are and how much they need to get. And we have complete trust and confidence in their ability to keep doing that,” said US State Department Spokesman John Kirby.
Whatever the reasons behind such a move, the UN-led programme will put Iraq’s future in the hands of an international agency, and the stakes are high that Iraqis will once again miss an opportunity to engage directly in an interactive process to rebuild their battered nation.
A constructive role by the United Nations in Iraq’s rebuilding remains crucial, but it is expected to include the process of nation-building, transformation and state-building at the same time.
Any such programme should shift in approach from merely providing funding for post-conflict pacification to a comprehensive strategy of rebuilding a failed nation.
The UNDP says the mechanism will be used to promote community reconciliation and alleviate concerns relating to human rights and inclusion through a set of guidelines and a steering committee to supervise the programme.
But this is not enough to resolve Iraq’s 13-year internecine conflict and bring peace to the war-battered country. In order for such an effort to be effective and bear fruit, the international community should allow the Iraqis themselves to drive the entire process until it reaches its ultimate outcome.
While the world can provide financial, technical and political assistance, Iraq’s rebuilding remains the duty of Iraqis. One of the imperatives of working together in such a national endeavour is to initiate a learning process that can promote both the healing of old wounds and reconciliation.
For this approach to succeed in launching an effective state- and nation-building process, Iraq’s different communities, political groups and civil society should come up with a new deal for post-IS Iraq.
The first step should be for these communities to reach a new social and political contract for a functioning national political structure to replace the current dysfunctional system.
In order for this process to move forward, a transitional period should start the day after the Iraqi security forces have won the war against IS, alongside an effective, well-defined and sustainable stabilisation programme.
This will require a new transitional period that will include writing a new constitution and electing a new parliament that will choose a government that will take responsibility for implementing the new national contract.
While managing a successful transitional process remains the duty of Iraqis, the world can still assist by providing expertise and support in building institutional capacity and encouraging a new generation of Iraqis to take responsibility for reconstructing their country’s entire system.
The world should understand that stabilisation and reconstruction in Iraq following the defeat of IS needs more than short-term funding programmes, such as the FFIS adopted by the UNDP. Iraq’s troubles run so wide that the country needs a long-term sustainable programme that can overcome the political crises that breed trouble.
The main weakness of the current programme is that it deals with problems in areas affected by the war against IS with relief and development projects, while the biggest strategic concern should be dealing with the whole country, which is in ruins.
One major concern is that funding will mostly go to the administrative and operational costs of the UN agencies and foreign NGOs rather than to actual relief work, humanitarian needs and assistance.
While corruption such as in the Anbar Council compensation scandal remains a major concern, Iraqi NGOs and relief agencies such as the Red Crescent should be encouraged to take an active part in the programme. The participation of cross-sectarian NGOs in the rebuilding programmes should be part of the transformation of Iraq.
Iraq needs a pan-Iraqi reconstruction and development programme and a concrete nation- and-state-rebuilding scheme that replaces the current failed state with a new and functional system that gives Iraqis hope for the future.
The success of any stabilisation programme in post-IS Iraq will depend on whether the transitional period can produce a transformative leadership.
Such a leadership can only come into being through moulding a new Iraqi national identity, and it cannot be just about putting Shia, Sunnis and Kurds or other ethnicities in positions of power.
This artcile appeared first in Al-Ahram Weekly on August 18, 2016