December 15, 2011

As U.S. Troops Leave, Iraq Remains Beset by Resource Challenges

The U.S. military officially declared an end to its mission
in Iraq today. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking in Baghdad, said
that Iraq has shown remarkable progress in the past nine years. However, as with
many countries transitioning to democracy, “Iraq
will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to
divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself
Secretary Panetta said. Beyond the sectarian violence and a potentially
aggressive Iran on its border, the Iraqi government will continue to face many
of the perennial challenges it has been grappling with for the last nine years:
reliable access to electricity, water and other basic services that the
government is working to provide.

Despite U.S. and other government investments in Iraq since
2003, basic services are still largely unreliable. According to Al Jazeera, “Power
cuts are routine, and millions of Iraqis lack regular access to clean water,
proper hospitals, or basic infrastructure
.” These challenges could hamstring
Iraq’s economy, especially as the country looks to draw in foreign businesses
to promote economic development. “Unemployment
officially stands at around 16 per cent
,” Al Jazeera reported. “Many
Iraqis say the real number is nearly twice that high,
especially among young Iraqis. The only reliable employer is the
government, which provides jobs for nearly 40 per cent of the workforce
.” Bloomberg reports that the government is
trying to attract foreign business, including from U.S. hotel operators and
developers. However, “A
possible lack of fresh water, electricity and communications systems also can
be obstacles to doing business in the country

As Iraq continues to grabble with these challenges, one
cannot help but wonder how much ill-access to water and adequate electricity
(to name just a few social needs) will continue to exacerbate existing
grievances and drive a greater wedge between the Iraqi people and the
government. Indeed, the relationship between the government and the people
remains fragile, and in the years ahead Iraq will likely need the support of
others to help build the capacity to provide these basic services in order to assuage
these grievances. As Secretary Panetta remarked in Baghdad, “Challenges
remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they
navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation

As the U.S. military leaves, our long-term commitment to
Iraq will undoubtedly rely largely on our civilian assets. Tens of thousands of
private contractors, a large civilian corps and embassy staff will continue to play
an important role in helping the Iraqi government build capacity where it
hasn’t otherwise been able to. Moreover, nongovernmental organizations and
other groups will be ever more important, as well. And although natural resource
issues are just a few of the challenges that remain, they deserve special
attention and should not be relegated to a status of lesser importance. Building
the capacity to provide reliable access to fresh water and electricity will
help strengthen Baghdad’s legitimacy and help the government combat some of the
more direct threats to the state, including sectarian violence and other imminent
security challenges. In that light, Iraq’s resource troubles can serve as both
a challenge and opportunity to
promoting long-term security and stability.