On Tuesday, November 10, 2015, Peace Ambassadors for Iraq (PAFI) held a conference in partnership with the Institut Thomas More entitled What Future for Iraq? Daesh and National Break-Up in Paris, France.
The conference brought together representatives and experts from across Iraqâ€™s religious and ethnic communities as well as analysts from Europe and the United States in order to discuss the status of the conflict against Daesh (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS) as well as the consequences of poor governance and corruption in Iraq.
The panel consisted of PAFI President Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari; Sheikh Sabah al-Saedi, former independent member of Iraqi parliament; Dr. Ahmed Anwar, head of the Kurdistan anti-corruption committee; Ahmed Hakky, General Secretary of the Iraqi Forum for Intellectuals and Academics; Dr. Hameed Shukur al-Jubouri, former head of the Iraqi customs agency; Myriam Benraad, researcher at the Institute for Research and Studies on the Arab and Muslim World; and Paul Hamill, adjunct senior fellow at the American Security Project. Armelle Charrier, a correspondent for France 24 TV, moderated the discussion.
Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari (center)Â in discussion with Armelle Charrier (left) and Dr. Hameed al-Jubouri (right) at the conference What Future for Iraq? Daesh and National Break-Up.
Working Toward Solutions
The foundation of the conference was the search for solutions to the problems that Iraq is currently in the midst of.
The challenges that Iraq and its people are faced with are staggering. Whether it is the struggle against Daesh, the growing refugee crisis, or the pervasive corruption in Iraqi government, the panelists all agreed that the country must work toward fundamental changes in governance, security, and reforms.
On the subject of solutions for Iraq, al-Dhari emphasized that â€œwe have to get away from cosmetic solutions, or quick fixes, because we will only be stuck in this situation for much longer and the people will continue to suffer.â€
In light of the need for a comprehensive plan to alleviate the various, yet interconnected, crises in Iraq, al-Dhari made a call for all stakeholders, inside and outside of Iraq, to play a role.
â€œI am making an appeal to the international community and those in Iraq, to come together and work toward national reconciliation. Anyone who cares about the future of Iraq should be a partner in this effort.â€
Corruption and Governance
Many of the panelists highlighted the corrosive influence of corruption and deficient governance that contribute to the problems that Iraq is experiencing.
As al-Saedi concisely stated, â€œcorruption killsâ€¦corruption and the corrupt are the enemies of the people.â€
On the ways in which the international community can stamp out corruption, al-Saedi urged countries to enforce and prosecute those who are taking money out of the country illegally. AnotherÂ measure that should be taken is to better regulate the sale of Iraqi oil, the revenue of which is often siphoned off by those in power.
Corruption and the mismanagement of resources do not only lead to financial improprieties and money being stolen but it results in the poor administration of public services which then feeds into the further marginalization of communities in Iraq.
Dr. Jubouri, formerly of the Iraqi customs agency, described the situation from the governmentâ€™s perspective.
â€œThe health and education ministries are entirely underfunded whereas the number of personal security personnel for ministers and members of parliament has continued to expand. These expenditures are draining the country because taxes only account for four to six percent of the national budget, the rest is supported by oil revenue. This is structurally imbalanced.â€
On the subject of budgets and priorities, Hakky noted that the ministry of higher education is reluctant to pay $150,000 per year for scientific reviews and access to databases which are necessary for students and researchers to learn and strengthen their education.
All the panelists agreed that despite the billions of dollars that have been funneled into Iraq, mostly for security related expenses, the country still lacks fundamental infrastructure and public services.
As Hakky pointed out, â€œif the corruption becomes sustained, and now it seems endemic to the system, it will further marginalize people and drive them into the arms of those such as Daesh who say they are protecting the people, when in fact they are only further harming them.â€
The conflict against Daesh has drawn most of the world’s attention to Iraq and its roots can be traced back decades. As Benraad noted, â€œthe embargo of the 1990s destroyed Iraq and the consequences are being felt today. The militias and armed groups which are spreading have to do with the status of Iraq and the country being turned into an outcast in the international society.â€
Benraad felt that in order to turn the tide against Daesh, ultimately, the Sunni population of Iraq needs to be supported and given the resources to fight. While a military conflict is now underway, the Sunni populations must be made to feel as part of Iraqi society and politics, and currently, that is not the case.
Al-Dhari agreed and said that the Sunni population must be included in the decision-making and governance of the country, and until that point, the grievances that feed movements such as Daesh will remain unaddressed.
Hamill, in his take from the American perspective, felt that there needs to be a renewed look at governance and that this effort will be taken up by the next administration in Washington. However, he emphasized that governance needs to be matched with political reconciliation.
Iraq and Its Partners
In a final message to those in attendance, al-Dhari urged all those who are able, to work toward supporting the people of Iraq and bringing the issues of governance and malfeasance into the focus of the international community.
â€œWe need our partners in the United States, Europe and the Middle East to lead Iraq and work with us to foster peace and national reconciliation because continuing aerial bombardment and putting more weaponry into the country is not a viable, long-term solution. We must pursue fundamental reforms to Iraqi politics and society so that the people become the priority and not the ones who continue to suffer.â€