There’s more in Iraq than just oil

This morning, a Bloomberg Businessweek article proudly proclaimed “Iraq Oil Output Beating Iran Ends Saddam Legacy.”

I agree with Bloomberg that this is an important milestone for the country, one which will generate life saving revenue for development and rebuilding. However, I believe there are two problems with this statement: first, Bloomberg is mistaken in thinking that as complicated a subject as the legacy of Saddam Hussein lies in oil production. The root of Saddam’s legacy actually resides in the violence that exists in the Iraqi political culture. Second, Saddam’s legacy has not, in fact, been eradicated.

In fact, it is far too early to claim that Iraq has shed this legacy. As Kenneth Pollack wrote in a recent New York Times article:

“First, Iraq is an incredibly fragile state whose democratic institutions are weak and mostly overwhelmed by the residual fear, anger, avarice and competing aspirations of its various leaders and communities. It could easily slip into unstable dictatorship, a failed state or renewed civil war.”

Iraq’s civil and political problems range from their fledgling democracy to their prime minister and their military. As I stated in a recent blog, Rahman Aljebouri, the Senior MENA Program Officer for the National Endowment for Democracy, does not consider Iraq a democracy because it lacks the critical infrastructure of a democracy, including an independent media, security, and a culture of democratic institutions. Furthermore, in a recent article for Open Democracy entitled “The Resistible Rise of Nouri Al-Maliki,” Toby Dodge reaffirms Pollack’s argument that Iraq is in huge danger of slipping into dictatorship or renewed civil war.

In his article, Dodge summarizes and examines the politics of Iraq over the past half decade. He argues that because of the United States’ rapid, expansive, and costly re-militarization of the Iraqi army (which the US had disbanded early in the occupation), Iraq is once again in the grasp of a massive military machine, not unlike the one controlled by Saddam. Furthermore, since 2006, Al-Maliki’s primary objective had been to take control of that machine to guarantee his own survival, which, by the time of the US military withdrawal, he had accomplished. Dodge concludes, “The clear and present danger this poses to Iraq’s nascent democracy, its civil society and its population is obvious.”

Which leads me to reiterate my first point: Bloomberg is incorrect in assuming that Saddam’s legacy resides in oil production. The root of Saddam’s legacy actually resides in the violence that permeates the political culture. Evidence of this include claims by fugitive vice president Tariq al Hashimi that his bodyguards were tortured to obtain false confessions and which subsequently led to the death of one.

No amount of oil can overcome this, it is something the Iraqi people must overcome themselves. 

The Iraqi people have already overcome so much. They have known violence, famine, thirst, and an utter lack of basic services. Iraq’s Olympic Rowing Team practices their sport despite the risk of kidnappings, bombs, and assassinations, and on a river where dead bodies were regularly dumped by insurgents. After the invasion, ordinary Iraqis risked their lives to return to work at the Baghdad Zoo to save the lives of those animals. All over Iraq, ordinary people are reviving art, architecture, music, and history. A Shakespearian Theater Troupe has even preformed in front of an audience of 600!

I get it, Bloomberg Businessweek has an agenda of it’s own, I shouldn’t take everything I read so literally. Well, Iraq has oil, but that’s not all it has. It’s also filled with amazing human beings who continue to inspire me. It’s got it’s fair share of problems, but EPIC will continue to work with our Iraqi partners to make a positive difference in the lives of youth from all over Iraq, regardless of their crude oil output.

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