Iraqi society today is working toward intertwined goals of development, security, and a new political order, each of which is dependent on the other and each crucial for the nation’s future, according to the United Nations’ chief envoy to Iraq.
Ahsraf Jehangir Qazir, special representative of the secretary-general for Iraq, highlighted the difficult yet hopeful situation there, saying that if security and a stable government are established, international investment in the nation should grow.
Qazir said Iraq is unlike Japan and Germany after World War II, with which it has been compared. Japan and Germany had industrial cultures, he said, and, though their economies were smashed by Allied forces, they were able to resume growth quickly despite the devastation. Iraq, though similarly devastated, has undergone decades of decline under a dictator who fostered a dependence on the state and who impoverished the nation’s former middle class. Qazir said that type of destruction will be more difficult to recover from.
“It really has been traumatic in Iraq. The whole middle class has been reduced to poverty,” Qazir said. “People en masse have become impoverished.”
Qazir spoke at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the John F. Kennedy School of Government Friday (April 8). He delivered the opening keynote speech of the three-day International Development Conference 2005, “Turning the Tide Against Poverty.” The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for International Development (CID), the Harvard Provost’s Office, the Center for the Environment, the CID Mexico Program, the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, the Center for Public Leadership, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, the Harvard Business School International Business and Development Club, and the Kennedy School Student Government.
Michael Ignatieff, the Carr Professor of Human Rights Practice, introduced Qazir, saying that the event took place at an important time in Iraq’s history and at an important time in the United Nations’ involvement in Iraq.
“We’re living through a crucial period in the history of a country that has suffered enormously and may just be in the process of democratic stabilization,” Ignatieff said.
The United Nations, which withdrew its non-Iraqi staff after the terrorist attack that killed UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sergio Vieira de Mello in 2003, has been increasing staff in the country recently. Qazir said from 35 UN staff in Baghdad when he took office, there are now 200 and they are opening new offices in Iraq’s north and south.
Qazir said Iraq’s future is potentially bright. Iraq has large oil reserves that serve as a potential source of wealth. Unlike many other Arab countries, it has water that can be used for agriculture, though the agricultural sector, like others under Saddam Hussein, has been neglected. And its former middle class provides a latent pool of skilled labor.
But Qazir said the nation has to mount several hurdles in order to take advantage of its resources. The security situation is primary, he said, because without security, development can’t occur.
The nascent political process now going on is also important in providing a politically stable future for the nation. The Iraqi government is drafting a constitution that, if created by the Aug. 15 deadline, will go to the Iraqi people for a referendum in October, with general elections of a permanent Iraqi government following in December.
It’s important that the political process be inclusive of the entire nation, Qazir said, and it’s encouraging that leaders of the two largest groups, Shiites and Kurds, have reached out to Sunnis who stayed away from the polls. The new leadership, Qazir said, understands that leaving Sunnis out of the new government will be a recipe for future turmoil.
Even with an improved security situation, Qazir said the Iraqis and foreign donors aiding them face an enormous task in rebuilding. Through war and neglect, the infrastructure has been wrecked, with estimates ranging as high as $50 billion to restore it. In addition, governmental infrastructure that analysts had expected to remain in place and deliver services had largely withered away under Hussein and needs to be rebuilt.
“Even when the climate has normalized, it’ll take a long time for Iraq to get back to where it was two decades ago,” Qazir said.